WITH Limerick celebrating its City of Culture status, the time seems ripe to honour composer-son Bill Whelan with a commemorative commission.
The result is 'Linen and Lace', a flute concerto in all but name, written for international celebrity James Galway. And it is Galway who premieres the piece at the NCH, with the RTE NSO under commanding Gavin Maloney, prior to its repeat in Limerick's University Concert Hall.
The attractive score incorporates traditional melodies – 'My Lagan Love' and 'There is an Isle' – associated, like linen, with Galway's native Belfast and, like lace, with Bill Whelan's Limerick birthplace.
Two distinct movements, both with matching segments, neatly amalgamate before the concerto reaches its conclusion. Beautifully written, 'Linen and Lace' serves the liquid mellifluousness of its dedicatee perfectly.
The movements are also enlivened by marching elements and then relaxed by gracious pastoral sections, which Galway, still possessing remarkable breath control, expresses with his innate sense of musical phrasing.
For the most part, Whelan's accompanying forces ensures the delicacy of the flute's timbre is unclouded and only towards the end does it disappear briefly under the exciting panoply of an orchestral tutti.
At times, throughout 'Linen and Lace', orchestral woodwind, together with horn and harp, are neatly spotlit as their reflective and complimentary comments enhance the soloist's own richly embroidered lines.
Interestingly, Whelan avoids the temptation of a rousing coda to finish. Instead, he allows his soloist to float into the distance on a refined cadenza.
The programme also brings Whelan's 'Inishlacken' where classical violin and traditional fiddle nattily intertwine as they glide and swoop in descriptive avian intimations. With a perceptive strings-only RTE NSO, Catherine Leonard and Zoe Conway are the spontaneous soloists.
Bill Whelan's 'Riverdance Symphonic Suite' completes the evening. The relatively short Eurovision interlude is over-expanded into a number of contrasting episodes. There are minimalist repetitions, touches of Copland, tinges of Ó Riada and colourful Hollywood-esque epic moments.
However, it takes a long time to reach the explosive rekindling of the original sequence that electrified the Point Theatre in 1994. Despite numerous delights, the Suite might well benefit from judicious pruning.