NEW ROSS PIANO FESTIVAL
Reviewed by Liam Murphy, Munster Express

The eleventh New Ross Piano Festival continued to attract audiences and quality musicians to enjoy three days of wonderful music in times that are still difficult for the arts. The concerts are well put together, and I for one am glad that the ‘new music’ content of the new compositions to celebrate the Ros Tapestry is completed. I didn’t attend the South East Young Pianists Concert on the Thursday, but it was delightful to see an Alastair Kavanagh listed, and he was the only one to play his own composition, Moonlight. He is a member of the Kavanagh family who have provided music for generations in Waterford.

His father, Liam, provided the music content for an Arts For All Project taking a WB Yeats play, The Cat And The Moon to pubs and arts centres over thirty years ago. I remember it well as I played the part of Man who carries a Blind Man on his back. Jim Nolan now a noted playwright played the Blind Man.

Friday

The autumnal winds threatened and leaves went in flurries outside St Mary’s Church, New Ross for the 11th New Ross Piano Festival. Piers Lane the curly-headed, Australian pianist opened the Gala Concert with a Suite de Pieces from Jean-Baptiste Lully. This was relaxing, restful and rhythmical with tinkling tunes, floating fragments, evocative echoes, and swirling sequences.

Finghin Collins the Festival’s Artistic Director swept the audience away with Four Schubert Impromptus full of exquisite expressiveness. Collins had the usual grimaces and gestures at the keyboard, but his work delighted the discerning audience. The cascading arpeggios were passionate and the second Impromptu was a joy with its sense of sadness, a lament for a special summer and perhaps a tingle of fear for an approaching winter.

The American pianist Nicholas Angelich was nearly sidelined by the exuberance of the youthful and vigorous playing of Quatuor Ebene a French string quartet who ‘attack’ the work as they did the Franck Piano Quintet in F minor. This passionate and stormy piece was suitably atmospheric for the evening in question. In John Kissane’s extensive and informative programme notes you got the feeling of the almost scandal of the 19th century when the composition was described as “adultery in public”. The work had attack, agitation, sensuality, and a relentless urgency.

Saturday

Saturday was a double concert treat and the 7:30 performance was world-class as Piers Lane joined with Quatuor Ebene for a Schumann Piano Quintet that got the audience excited and in raptures at the vigorous and energetic playing. The opening Allegro Brillante was just that, and the last movement was superb, and there was a foot-stomping, thunderous standing ovation. Nicholas Angelich followed that with an almost weary Schumann Kreisleriana.

The late night concert at 10:00 is usually a stark piece, with contemporary or sorrowful content, but the Festival’s Artistic Director chose to pair Nathalia Milstein (born 1995) and Jonathan Morris (born 1992) in a programme of Faure, Ravel and Bizet for four hands on one piano. Opening with Faure’s Dolly Suite – a Berceuse – a beautiful lullaby, that reminded me of the song ‘Try To Remember’ from The Fantasticks, and this was wonderfully gentle. There was delicacy of touch, synchronicity of interpretation as if memory was tapping on the mind – remember this.

There was a sense of ‘If Only..’ about the concert. If only we could hold these notes in our heads, in our hearts. There was a childlike romance from the Ravel (5 Children’s Pieces) and having two young pianists added to the wonder. The Bizet, Jeux d’Enfants Op 22 was vivacious and melodic.

Nathalia Milstein can be heard in the Large Room City Hall on Friday 14 October, as part of the Waterford Music Season.

Sunday

The 12:00 noon Coffee Concert was given by local pianist, Jonathan Morris who eleven years ago was a Masterclass student at the inaugural Piano Festival. He is completing his post-graduate studies in America. He began with a Haydn Sonata that sounded ahead of its time. He played near-neighbour, Marian Ingoldsby’s Ros Tapestry Suite 14, a premiere at the festival, and it was full of the ‘hustle and bustle’ of a busy market town.

He chose a Liszt Ballade No.2 in B to show his dexterity, and the technical prowess outweighed the chance of lyrical expression. His work on a Prokofiev Sonata was almost atonal and again chosen for technical reasons, but in the closing Precipitato, he got a chance to delight his audience with showy fingering and celebratory flourishes.

The 15:30 closing concert was impressive. Nicholas Angelich showed his finer qualities on the Bach English Suite No.2 with dance tunes and fashionable Bourees that made Louis XIV The Sun King a happy monarch in Versailles.

Finghin Collins and the Quatuor Ebene performed Faure’s Piano Quintet No.1 in D minor and the famed Adagio – a lullaby-like Berceuse was melancholic and yet dreamy, rising and falling like breathing. Gentle and regular like a floating, weightless, timeless wonder.

Piers Lane closed the concert with a wonderful selection of Chopin pieces, that showed how wonderful a musician he is. The audience loved the Fantasie in F, the beautiful Polonaise in F and the wonderful Nocturne in E flat.

What a delightful end to a wonderful weekend.

25 to 28 September 2014