Reviewed by Pat O’Kelly, Sunday Independent

Under astute artistic director Finghin Collins the 9th New Ross Piano Festival broadens its remit by inserting music for piano and winds in its programmes for the first time.

In two festival events I hear Dublin-based Cassiopeia Winds, led by flautist Caitríona Ryan and joined by the ubiquitous Collins, in works from the French repertoire.

Besides, the imaginatively ordered recitals finds young French artist Lise de la Salle taking an adventurous plunge into the depths of Brahms’s mammoth Handel Variations before Singapore-born Melvyn Tan brings the wealth of his insight to Schubert and, with ingenious subtlety, unveils a Gerald Barry festival commission.

French composers’ penchant for delicately balancing woodwind timbres is echoed through the spicy Gallic wit in Francis Poulenc’s Sextet. Served with piquant relish by the Cassiopeia/ Collins ensemble, they also educe the elements of melancholy Poulenc musters from time to time. His central Divertissement features some lovely solos not least Cormac Ó hAodáin’s smoothly resonant horn. André Caplet unfamiliar Quintet comes in the romantic mould against which neo-classical Poulenc railed. More influenced by Fauré and Brahms, this example of an earlier generation has the musicians playing with impressive warmth and honeyed tone. The work’s festival inclusion is not misplaced.

Melvyn Tan approaches Schubert’s late G major Sonata with almost reverential deference. His playing of the long opening movement, where the composer’s anguish is reflected in the music, is elegant and refined.

The Andante is beautifully fluid with his Menuetto tempo perfectly judged. The rolling phrases of the final Allegretto, which occasionally calls for bold bravura, are lyrically caressed in Tan’s caring involvement. Barry celebrates the fascinating fifteen-sectionwork-in-progress ‘Ros Tapestry’ through his “Arrogant Trespass”: the Normans landing on Bannow Strand. The composer says the short piece is ‘as much about silence as sound’ and its expectant soft staccato minimalism suggests gentle Morse code tapping. Melvyn Tan responds with amazingly studied precision.

Lise de la Salle’s Brahms ‘Handel Variations and Fugue’ has remarkable colour. Her exuberance needs tighter control but the grandeur of Brahms’s vision is clearly within her sights.

25 to 28 September 2014