Swan Hennessy Selected Piano Works review – Mildly picturesque

The Irish-American composer wore a range of musical hats

Selected Piano Works
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Artist: Swan Hennessy
Genre: Classical
Label: Perfect Noise PN 2006

Irish-American composer Swan Hennessy (1866-1929) wore a range of musical hats. The best-known is his Celtic one, which has already been celebrated in a quietly revelatory RTÉ Contempo Quartet CD for the RTÉ lyric fm label. This new selection of his piano miniatures runs to 41 movements in 75 minutes and focuses instead on French influences, though room is found for the Pièces celtiques of 1912.

“Influence” may well be the wrong concept for these mildly picturesque, dilutely impressionistic works with titles like Croquis de femmes, Croquis parisiens, Au bord de la forêt, and Banlieues (starting in Clamart and ending in Bourg-la Reine). They come across more on the lines of pallid parodies, mostly drained of momentum and energy, and not helped by the sometimes too vivid evocation of moments from their musical models.

The kind of functional connective musical tissue that the Contempo Quartet found quite eludes German pianist Moritz Ernst with his much more self-consciously nuanced approach.

Piano fanciers may like to note that the CD is a Steinway-free zone. The cover photo shows the composer seated at a Gaveau; Ernst’s performances, given on a Steingraeber, are lucidly recorded in that company’s chamber music hall in Bayreuth.

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor