LATEST REVIEW: Malcolm Gillies has written a detailed review of the Festival and sent it to us from Australia. Here it is……:
REVIEW OF 2017 NEW ROSS PIANO FESTIVAL BY MALCOLM GILLIES
[Malcolm Gillies is a London-based musicologist and critic].
New Ross’s greatest claim to fame is undoubtedly persuading John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather to take a boat to America in 1849, during the Irish potato famine. Statues, a homestead-museum and an arboretum now testify to New Ross’s gift to the New World. A couple of hours’ drive south of Dublin, this town appears an unlikely location for a piano festival. But back in 2006, the young Irish pianist Finghin Collins got together with local music-lovers to found an annual piano weekend. For a venue they settled on the venerable St Mary’s Church of Ireland, a snug spot with comfortable seats and good acoustics. A decade on, the New Ross Piano Festival has expanded in extent and ambition, now stretching over five days, with the innovation of a preliminary jazz day and performance opportunities for emerging pianists of the region. But its greatest asset is still its intimacy, built around just three days of solo and small-chamber “classical” performances.
Collins has meanwhile stormed the heights of international fame, with recent tours of America, Australia and China, augmenting an ever-busy European schedule. His calendar in 2015 included Hungary’s chamber-music festival in Kaposvár, directed by violinist Kristóf Baráti and cellist István Várdai. Hence, his concept for New Ross 2017: a festival involving “Hungarian musicians playing non-Hungarian music, and non-Hungarian musicians playing Hungarian music — so there is a whole mix going on”. And so it was, with Liszt, Dohnányi, Bartók, Kodály, Ligeti and Kurtág works running as a national leitmotif through its programmes.
Those programmes especially featured the Hungarian pianists Klára Würtz, winner of the 1988 Dublin International Piano Competition, and Zoltán Fejérvári, winner of the Montréal International Music Competition just last May, among the Festival’s half-dozen pianists. Each evening, in turn, Würtz, Collins and Fejérvári joined with the superb Baráti-Stumm-Várdai trio in playing Fauré, Schumann and Brahms piano quartets. It sometimes felt, indeed, like a mini-eisteddfod. Musicologist, Endre Tóth, in short talks each lunchtime, enthusiastically kept the Hungarian themes before the audience’s mind.
The rising piano star of this Festival was thirty-year-old Zoltán Fejérvári. Unassuming when approaching the podium and still needing some practice in the noble art of applause-catching, Fejérvári, when actually seated at the keyboard, leaves no doubts about his technical prowess and deep musicianship. The splendid sparseness of Beethoven’s late Six Bagatelles, fueled by the Master’s craggy and outlandish counterpoint, was impeccably rendered. And the Liszt Sonata in B minor, after some initial rhythmic contortions, emerged as an intellectual “tour de force”, eschewing the customary bombast for an imaginative and consistent reading of Liszt’s demanding specifications. A lesser pianist often cheats a little to gain speed or lets slip some of the melodic threads in Liszt’s complex musical fabrics, but Fejérvári’s delivery was true to the score, technically uncompromising, yet never forsook Liszt’s powerful poetry. When joining Hungarian colleagues in Brahms’s Piano Quartet in C minor, Fejérvári’s talents as a chamber player were even more to the fore. The balance, stylistic integration and reconciliation of individual interpretations made this the chamber performance of the Festival, notwithstanding Collins’ masterly collaboration with the same string trio in Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E flat major on the previous evening.
Other manifestations of the Festival’s Hungarian theme included Collins’s nicely choreographed performance of the Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs, and an engaging opening concert by Irish pianist Séan Morgan-Rooney included shorter works from Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata, Dohnányi’s Ruralia Hungarica, and half a dozen of Kodály’s piano pieces. At the other end of the Festival, Collins and Klára Würtz performed five of Kurtág’s Játékok for four hands, including the fiendish “Hommage à Sárközy”. Würtz also presented a polished performance of the four character pieces that comprise Bartók’s Op. 14 Piano Suite, but struggled to meet the simultaneous challenges of large leaps, dare-devil speed and high note accuracy in the outer movements of his solo Sonata (1926). Mind you, even Bartók himself fell before those combined challenges, and quietly dropped the work from his active repertory after a few years. It was on Würtz, too, that the honour was bestowed of concluding the Festival, with a spirited performance — full of folk colours and fine embellishments — of Kodály’s thorny piano version of his Dances of Marosszék, now better known in its orchestral clothing.
Rounding out the Festival were three contrasting cameo concerts, less connected with Hungarian focus. Fortepianist, Kristian Bezuidenhout, just announced as Principal Guest Director of London’s “period chamber orchestra”, The English Consort, brought to New Ross his own Paul McNulty reproduction of an 1805 instrument by Viennese maker Anton Walter. On it he presented works by Beethoven (two rondos), Haydn (a variations movement) and Mozart (the Sonata in B flat major of 1783). Compared with a large modern Steinway this wonderful instrument — in Bezuidenhout’s capable hands and pedalling — demonstrated how much was lost, as well as gained, by the later developments of the piano. The poignant late Haydn alternating variations conveyed a bloodless depth of emotions denied to modern pianos, just as the the finale of the Mozart sonata, in its cadenza, demonstrated admirably the passionate, silvery bravura of which these straight-stringed instruments are capable.
A second cameo came from twenty-year-old Elizaveta Ukrainskaia, last year’s winner of the European Piano Competition. Her hour-long recital — a nine-movement suite, originally for harpsichord, by Rameau; Schubert’s Hungarian Melody (1824); and Prokofiev’s ten-movement Cinderella Suite — through its many miniatures demonstrated neat technique, faultless memory and apt character depiction. It remained for her final item, Liszt’s twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody, to dispel any possible notions of being “lightweight”. Because of illness, a third cameo concert, from David Greilsammer, director of the Geneva Camerata, had to be cancelled, but Collins stepped in with four Chopin noctures, well matched to the concert’s late-night scheduling.
This short, intense festival in New Ross is a hidden gem. Its exposure of well and less known Hungarian compositions and performers never faltered. Perhaps one day it will even outrival the Kennedy legacy as New Ross’s greatest claim to fame.
Malcolm Gillies is a London-based musicologist and critic.
NEWS-FLASH! Finghin Collins and Katherine Hunka on tour at the moment……..
FOR YOUR DIARY!
The Piano Festival is always the last complete weekend in September.
In 2018 the last weekend will be September 26th – 30th , as late as it can go
The 2017 Artists
This year the Piano Festival introduced pre-booking for allocated seating. Its an experiment, but one we felt we had to try because of queues at the door. Its on-line at www.stmichaelsnewross.com. Or phone 00353 51 421255. Do take advantage of it……..There is important information about the season tickets at the bottom of this page.
Its over for this year…….
Although the programme contained a wide variety of composers, there was a Hungarian flavour to this year’s festival. Two of our guest pianists, Zoltan Fejérvári and Klára Würtz were Hungarians. He was making his Irish debut and she was a prize-winner at the first Dublin International Piano Competition. Two of the brilliant chamber music performers were Hungarians – István Várdai on cello and Kristóf Bárati on violin – and we had a Hungarian musicologist, Endre Toth, who enlightened us on the famed Hungarian school of piano-playing before each of the coffee concerts and talked about Kodaly at the student session. Together with Finghin Collins these musicians played at the three main concerts.
Another exciting “not to be missed” event this year was the fortepiano concert on Saturday. Kristian Bezuidenhout, the much admired exponent on this instrument, performed on a specially imported fortepiano in a solo recital at 12 noon. David Greilsammer was taken ill and unfortunately was unable to perform his programme called Labyrinth on Saturday evening. To everyone’s delight, Finghin Collins agreed to give a short recital of Chopin Nocturnes, which are featured in his new CD of Chopin’s music. The astonishing young Russian, Elizaveta Ukrainskaia, gave a solo recital on Sunday at noon. She has just won first prize at the Bremen Piano Competition, and the New Ross Piano Festiva was pleased to enable her Irish debut.
There was a new and free Friday noon concert with Sean Morgan- Rooney, winner of the Brennan Prize at the last Dublin International Piano Competition. This was specially aimed at music students but it was open to the public to join them at 12 noon. Sean’s programme featured a variety of short pieces, familiar and not….
Lastly but not least, we introduced a Jazz Piano Day, Wednesday the 20th, to start the festival, curated by Phil Ware. He brought to us one of Europe’s most entertaining and well-known jazz pianists, the Italian Enrico Pieranunzi. Phil and his double bass player, Damian Evans, also played a very well received lunch time concert that day in the church. In the early evening, at 7 pm, Phil and Enrico had an entertaining pre-concert conversation about their jazz piano experiences prior to Enrico’s concert at 8 pm.
Continuing the jazz piano strand, Myles Drennan played two sessions, each an hour long, one in the New Ross Library at 11am and one in the Dunbrody Visitor Centre at 3.30. Both of these were free events. These PLAY ME pianos were placed in those venues for a week for anyone to play when they felt like it. One was also placed in the Lake Region Medical premises.
Two things to note when booking:
1. The SEASON TICKET does not include the Jazz Day concerts. This is to allow you to choose whether you want to join in what we hope will be a good cross-over audience. So they must be booked separately.
2. When you start to book a SEASON TICKET online, the first date you see will be Thursday. Fear not – click on, and you will find that you have the ticket for all the remaining concerts also. If in doubt you can phone the theatre Monday to Friday at 051 421255.
You can download the 2017 programme on this page, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates.
“…a little gem…”, “…innovative planning…”, “…atmospheric charm…”, “attractive acoustic…” Some of reviewers’ comments about the festival
And then there are the pianists – Cristina Ortiz, Freddy Kempf, Melvyn Tan, Norika Ogawa, Lisa de la Salle, Nicholas Angelich, Sunwook Kim, Joseph Moog, Lilya Zilberstein, Kathryn Stott, and Cedric Pescia are amongst the 56 international star pianists that audiences have had the pleasure of listening to over the past twelve years.