‘Twas fitting that the West Ocean String Quartet should play at St. George’s Church in Belfast. Between 1817 and 1821, Edward Bunting, the man who recorded the music played at the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival (thereby saving a huge part of the national repertoire for posterity), was organist in this very church.

One of the stained glass windows shows a king playing the harp – if anyone knows the story of the window, I’d like to hear it. So, St. George’s was the perfect backdrop for the musical talents of Neil Martin, Seamus Maguire, Niamh Crowley and former punk Ken Rice for an evening of exquisite music, both classically traditional and newly-composed.

The evening of many highlights kicked off with Planxty Stockallen, a piece written by Neil Martin to commemorate a fine meal in the county Meath townland of the title. The evening was a musical journey taking us from Meath to Sligo and from Donegal across to Quebec; and even to the great beyond.

‘Space for Dreaming’ was inspired by a photograph Neil saw of ‘the earth in all its glory’, taken from space yet there were, and are, wars happening all over the beautiful planet we live on.

The first half set piece as the three-piece suite (eh?) called ‘A Vague Utopia’, where Neil pays homage to William Butler Yeats. The first part looks at the multifarious interests of Yeats; the second part was a gorgeous love theme to celebrate the love affair between Yeats and Maude Gonne and it finished off with “a diseased reel” alluding to Yeats’ relationship with Ireland. A truly wonderful piece.

Other highlights of the night were ‘The Lark in the Clear Air’ which defined the Sunday mornings of a generation; the title track of the new album, an instrumental version of the Robbie Burns song, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’; the languid ‘Cailín na Gruaige Doinne’, and another suite, ‘The Guiding Moon’.

As night enveloped the church, the music gave a backward glance to Bunting and forward to new compositions from Martin, played with grace and skill by four superlative musicians.

You can watch the West Ocean String Quartet play one of the pieces they did last night, The Happy Camper on YouTube You can also buy their brilliant new album featuring Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill at the West Ocean String Quartet Official Website.

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