Now in its fifth year the New Ross Piano Festival, continues to attract audiences as an excellent range of international and national pianists who introduce and extend to knowledge and pleasure of festival goers.
I was struck this year that out of five concerts that I attended, not one performer introduced any work or said anything to the audience. That professional coldness is a pity at an intimate bijou festival, where audiences had to stand outside in the cold while performers rehearsed or tuned up the piano up to the advertised starting time. The venue is too small for this and perhaps it is time for the organisers to move to a more spacious, audience friendly place.
The festival was celebrating Chopin and provided two fine modern interpreters Sa Chen and Abdel Rahman El Bacha to impress the audience. Sa Chen was the darling of the weekend and she endeared herself to a new audience.
Finghin Collins as Artistic Director once again impressed not just with his own playing but with the scope and list of performers to achieve his vision for a festival of international quality.
On the Friday, the Czech pianist, Libor Novacek, opened with a dreamy, vague Janacek In The Mists where notes hung in the air and stopped. A slight ragtime passage got me interested then it faded into obscurity and a hammered note.
Finghin Collins continued the wistful mood with Robert Schumann’s Fantastie Stucke Op 12, but this was showy expressive stuff with Collins staring up right as if immersed in a private dialogue or fantasy. His attack, alternated with dreamy passages and a very reflective final coda.
After the interval the young Chinese pianist Sa Chen joined The Renoir Quartet for a Chopin concerto No.1. This was almost a string quartet with occasional piano and there was a touch of the melancholies and again rippling and reflective piano passages. The Romance: Larghetto was beautiful romantic stuff with piano and strings in love. Such pleasing warm feelings like the end of a glorious summer. This was memorable music and the piano work was beautiful. The cello introduced an undertone of sadness and regret but a sprightly finale dance away happily.
The Saturday evening concert again opened with Sa Chen treating the eager audience – the largest crowd of the festival – to a testing Beethoven Piano Sonata Op.31 No.3. From his middle period this tested the limitations of the instrument and Sa Chen matched her skill at difficult passages and hammer blows of technical demands with sweeping lyrical passages and beautiful melodies rolling, rolling away into a dancing tune.
Finghin Collins followed with the Renoir Quartet in a sombre Schumann Piano Quintet and dirge-like marches despite a vigorous Scherzo.
Abdel Rahman El Bacha
The Lebanese pianist chose Chopin’s 24 Preludes to show his technical skills but this was too technical, like a clever selection of difficult passages that didn’t fit a mood and the few recognisable snatches didn’t make up for undeniable skill.
That sense of disappointment carried into Finghin Collins 10pm concert of Schubert’s B Flat Piano Sonata. However, there were sublime passages where life seemed precious but the anguished grimaces of Collins caused me to close my eyes. The sonata ended rather than danced away.
The Sunday morning was bright and chilly and Irish-born pianist Rebecca Capova got a noon concert off to a lively start with a Mozart Piano Sonata. I loved the gentle Adagio and Capova’s beautiful playing as I pondered a plaque in St.Mary’s Church to Mildred Bushe, in loving memory who gave a lifetime of dedication to that parish and died 87 years ago almost to the day.
Ravel’s Mirrors was a bit too technical for a morning but I liked The Valley of Bells for its impressionist touches, a Dutilleux Variations was again more technical that entertaining but it had a powerful conclusion.
The closing afternoon concert opened with Finghin Collins giving another technical display of keyboard mastery with a Bach Fantastie and Fugue.
Abdel Rahman El Bacha joined Dominic Dudley (double bass) and the Renoir Quartet for a brooding and beautiful Chopin Piano concerto No.2. This was quality work of unrequited love and rippling Mazurka tunes that delighted the audience. Sa Chen returned with an overly technical set of Rachmaninov, Etudes and a fine Chinese contemporary piece Namucuo by Xiaogang Ye with beautiful hammering ripples of sound.
Alkan’s The Wind was a virtuoso exercise in shivers of music and the concluding Ravel La Valse was a weak finale.