BBC Classical Music 4* Review for Ailís Ní Ríain’s The Last Time I Died.
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The Last Time I Died is the first full-length album from the Irish composer Ailís Ní Ríain. The latest in NMC’s Debut Disc series features a group of musically diverse artists performing a rich selection of Ní Ríain’s chamber and small-scale works, the “theatre, intimacy, and nuance” of which has occupied the composer over much of the previous 20 years of her career.
Described by the Irish Times as “a significant talent” Ní Ríain’s music has been performed across Europe and further afield in Brazil, Japan, and the USA. One of the principle ideas explored in Ní Ríain’s work is communication with others, something which she has a unique perspective on as she is deaf/hard of hearing. Whilst this has sometimes placed her in challenging situations regarding verbal communication, her hearing differences have also heightened and enhanced how she relates to sound. The Last Time I Died is a portrait of a composer harnessing this unique experience of the sonic world to explore a huge range of substantial themes including consciousness, relationships, reality, and death.
Focal points on the album include Revelling/Reckoning, a two-movement work for wind quintet and percussion, which aims to reflect the contradictory nature of existence, heard here in a recording by the New London Chamber Ensemble and another musician who has embraced her hearing challenges in her artistry, the iconic percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Contradiction also lies at the heart of Hiding Out ‘Neath the Everything for violin and recorded altered piano, which explores the internal and external aspects of consciousness in this recording featuring violinist Darragh Morgan. Soberado, a toy piano work that reflects on experiences of sobriety, really exemplifies Ní Ríain’s distinct approach to instrumentation in this recording by Xenia Pestova Bennett. Featuring Tim Williams on cimbalom and Tom McKinney on guitar, Thank You is a movement from Ní Ríain’s 2010 music-theatre work Brief-Blue-Electric-Bloom, which combines music, sign language, poetry and animation, aiming to “enable a deaf audience and ‘disable’ a hearing audience so that they might ‘receive’ the work equally”.