Now in its third year, the New Ross Piano festival has a greater audience, a more varied programme and some fine exuberant musicians. The moods moved between dance and dirge with Finghin Collins in excellent form and Philip Martin in great entertaining vigour. Emma Johnson impressed on clarinet and Marc Coppey on cello is just solid gold.
A late night Messiaen, Quartet For The End Of Time, was a chilling success but the Sunday programme was too Nocturnal and Funerial for daylight despite fine playing.
Friday: The venue has beautiful qualities but portaloos are not one of them at ten o’clock in the evening. But the view in the early evening sunlight was attractive; the inside of the church is austere and the seat cushions shabby and saggy, but patrons tend to bring their own.
The Brazilian pianist Christina Ortiz got the event off to a fine measured start with some Chopin Etudes, that are mostly seen as test pieces now and a very reflective Debussy. The dreamy murmurs and blissful rolling tones had a man asleep behind me and the audience liked the alternate attack and somnolence of Ortiz’s choices.
A Mendelssohn Trio, featuring Philip Martin (piano), Muriel Vantoreggi (violin) and the wonderful Marc Coppey (cello), was as familiar as an old friend and as reassuring as warm cream on pavlova. The scherzo was a fluffy dream – a slippers and cappuccino cream – and the closing movement was rich and busy.
Finghin Collins delighted in the second half with a Haydn variation to set a thoughtful tone and his facial movements are a performance as sadness and anger hammered out a coda to a full stop.
His Beethoven Sonata No. 32 in C minor was a triumph from the dramatic opening into a range of ripples and sharps, dark and light. This was heavy metal from 200 years ago. You could feel the axe meister chops, the doo wop bee bop. Insets of lyricism got you emotional and then the rock and roll hammered that emotion out of you. At times I felt I could hear Fernando’s Hideaway. In the closing passages it was rock-a-hoola in great style. Go Beethoven Go. And then the sublime ending down to a stop. Amazing stuff and Finghin Collins at his young showy best.
Saturday: Finghin Collins opened the 7.30 concert with a technically difficult but bitty Schumann. It was like a gifts or amusing tasters to whet a palate with lyrical swatches, romantic riffs, a march, a thundering toccata, a trembling minuette, a symphonic scherzo and a quick march. Anyone for pick n’ mix?
A Brahms trio of piano, clarinet and cello entertained but it came across like a cello and clarinet piece. For the most part it was sombre and sad, yet it struck a mood with the audience. Emma Jackson shone on clarinet and Marc Coppey’s cello showed love and maybe regret.
After the interval Philip Martin entertained with a splendid Danza from Gottschalk, who was born in New Orleans of a Jewish London father and a white Creole Haitian mother in 1829. Here was West Indian influences from a Victorian ere where it must have sounded so exotic and colourful. There were tinkling, twinkling dances, march like cakewalks, struts and strides and a piece of a polka. There was even a take on Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home, dazzling and dancing away into high stepping riffs and soft shoe shuffles, lyrical swirls and exotic turns.
The 10 o’clock Late concert was a powerful event, filled with such sad and mixed emotions. Finghin Collins (piano), Muriel Cantoreggi (violin), Emma Johnson (clarinet) and Marc Coppey (cello) gave us the fifty or so minute Mesiaen Quartet For The End Of Time. First performed in 1941 in a Nazi concentration camp, the start beauty and pain of the piece is chilling and in a darkened church I couldn’t stop thinking about the rag-taggle orchestra of inmates brought together to entertain Nazi guests at lavish parties or lulling prisoners into a false sense of order and normality in a place of death and vile inhumanity.
The work sends so many contradictory messages and the instruments at times went deep into me like a shriek, a scream, a moan, a lyrical interlude and the piano counting down not time but lives like a slow fugue of Apocalypse.
Sunday: It was a wet misty morning that turned out to be a drizzle for a dirge. The young French pianist, Nicholas Stavy, a new kid on the keyboard, chose a dismal dirge by Chopin to open and it brought back at 11am powerful memories of the Messiaen from 10.00pm the night before. He chose work from a narrow 1840s area and even 3 Mazurkas didn’t lift the gloom. A Polonaise-Fantaisie Op. 81 was written when Chopin was dying of tuberculosis and whatever passion Stavy brought to the technical aspects of the work it didn’t gel for me.
The afternoon concert started with Philip Martin playing two Herz Nocturnes and it was Melancholy of autumn avenues, soggy leaves and sadness. Followed by Sweetness but a sweetness of memory, wistful happy regrets, alas those times and all that. Then he played a Chopin Sonata famous for the Funeral March.
Then Collins, Johnson and Cantoreggi gave us a potted Stravinsky Suite from the Soldier’s Tale. A jaunty march tune like clang clang went the trolley moved into a little violin dance with scratchy old timey music. The clarinet jazzed up, the piano went pizzicato into a dance. Then there was a recognisable Tango, a klezmerish waltz and an uncertain take on a Ragtime tune into a crazy dance.
The Brazilian pianist Christina Ortiz completed the concert opening with a Brazilian Fructuoso Vienna who showed more European style than anything else. Three Brahms Intermezzi were sad and reflective, sweet and regretful, lingering like a lovesong.
Her Villa-Lobos choice was more European than expected and Valsa da Dor was sorrowful and a Festa no Sertao disappointed. The Sertao is a vast inland region in Brazil famous for wild cowboys and cattle. But it could have been Rachmaninov at the movies.
The crowd loved Ortiz and gave her a standing ovation.