Now in it’s fourth year, the bijou and beautiful New Ross Piano festival, is establishing its credentials and bringing a wonderful sense of enjoyment, young virtuoso talent and a very varied programme to please and tease the senses. Finghin Collins as Artistic Director has worked hard on the shape of the programme and invited to New Ross an excellent set of pianists, award-winners, and this year, a thrilling quartet of strings. Soon this event will have outgrown its beautiful little St. Mary’s Church.

Youth

Proceedings got underway on the Thursday with a happy South East Young Pianists In Concert where Sarah Keating shone with a Beethoven piece. Eamonn O’Neill socked a slice of Gershwin to them with a snappy I Got Rhythm but it was Jessica Doran who brought humour and style to the church with a piece called Wild Bill Hiccup. Oh I could burp for joy.

Friday Concerts

Finghin Collins, the festival’s Artistic Director, got the show on the road with a lively taster of Bach’s Partita, a suite of dances with a honky tonk Rondeau to set the mood for Antti Siirala (piano) and the cailini of the Callino Quartet, with Cesar Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor. A piece more infamous than it needed to be as Franck’s wife, who seemed to dislike his music as much as she came to dislike him, called it – an obscene depraved work.

It is a romantic and passionate set with sad strings to open before dramatic attack and a storm of emotional proportions. The second movement darkens and deepens into tender violin passages and it aches tragedy. The closing Allegro with busy strings and piano passages that builds and builds into a dramatic conclusion.

Sunwook Kim

After the interval, the Korean pianist, Sunwook Kim, rocked into a Prokofiev Piano Sonata after a reflective Mozart, Rondo. He is a small person, with a Beatle moptop and he leans so far back at the keyboard, you expect him to fall over. The Prokofiev had romantic attack as Sunwook Kim pounded the keys to bring forth anger and aggression. The atmosphere sizzled with tension as he ripped into a bouncy Allegretto and then waltzed into a balletic mood with sad little ripples.

The final Vivace was fast and pacy with lyrical passages giving way to insistent pounding out of notes – images from a time of war – hectic energy in a staccato mood as he stabbed the keyboard with a virtuoso vigour that brought the audience to their feet in applause and affirmation.

Saturday

Saturday was filled with variety and some quality masterclasses but on the evening concert front, the 7.30 start gave us Annti Siirala exploring an odd Scriabin Sonata no. 3 that came with quasi-religious baggage and context about the stars supposedly singing. It sounded like well-played clatter of keys and a repeating melodic passage but my overall impression was just noise.

Sunwook Kim and the Callino Quartet delighted the audience with a dazzling Dvorak Piano Quintet in A major. Beginning with a sad cello and piano, it was soon overpowered by a quartet of strings as the sad passage returned again and again while the music got quicker and more urgent. This created a furious flurry of excitement.

After the interval, Finghin Collins was crowd pleasing with a lively expressive Beethoven Sonata in E major and it was exquisite and lyrical. He gave its Irish premiere to Vrishti (rain) by French contemporary electro-accoustic composer, Bertrand Dubedout (what a musical name). Collins had premiered this work early in the month at an outdoor orangerie in West Paris. This twelve minute piece was nebulous, with trickle down sounds of water, lots of water sounds; very clever and technical and when a mobile phone tinkled out in the audience it seemed part of the experience.

Collins, then gave the audience romantic fireworks with two Listz variations on grand opera themes. A Wagnerian Libestod (Love/death) was big, dramatic, lush and rose-mantic like a movie theme. The Rigoletto Paraphrase was all big aria, expressive, expansive with bravura flourishes and a glorious virtuoso style.

Late Concert

An excellent feature at New Ross is a late concert (10 o’clock) and it’s only at a festival these days that you would get a Schnittke Piano Quintet from Collins and the Callino. This was a cold, frozen, pretentious piece of atonal and vague music. A few piano notes opened and the strings sounded like a machine hum. Foreboding stuff. An eerie waltz tune seemed to be played backwards. Then the strings were like a swarm of insects, then a passage from a zombie movie as the piano became a music box of tinkling, mysterious sounds and it ended to polite applause.