Reviews

 

Brahms - Piano Pieces Op 118. Bach/Busoni - Chaconne in D minor. Schubert - Sonata in A minor D537. Chopin - Ballade No 4.

Davide Franceschetti (piano)

Powerscourt House, Enniskerry

Michael Dervan

Davide Franceschetti was still in his teens when he took the top prize in the Dublin International Piano Competition in 1994. He'staken to the competition circuit again in the last few years, winning prizes in Vercelli (third in 1999), Leeds (second in 2000) and reaching the semi-finals of the Van Cliburn in 2001.

His recital at Powerscourt House for the Music in Great Irish Houses Festival showed the 27-year-old Franceschetti to be very different from the young tiger of the Dublin Competition. His playing is now ruminative rather than rash. Whereas once he played as if time were going to run out on him, now he senses that it's there in abundance, and he can dally to shape and contour as he pleases.

The roughness and glitter of his tone have been replaced by a burnished surface, and there's also a frequent sense of inner warmth that's new to his music-making. In terms of keyboard facility, Franceschetti has always had resources to die for. Now, instead of being put to flashy ends, they are being called upon to trace inner lines, voice chords with unexpected balances, and at times to surprise by degree after unexpected degree of pianissimo.

But the pleasures of Franceschetti's playing on Tuesday remained primarily those of piano wizardry. He didn't manage to show the knack of making pieces of music hold together. He provided detail after detail to admire, but didn't successfully contextualise things in a cogent bigger picture. To put it another way, he set the scene with apparent ease and built up a sense of anticipation, but he didn't keep a handle on the narrative, or tell the story convincingly.

His best moments were when his handling of Busoni's arrangement of Bach's great Chaconne in D minor for solo violin flared into virtuosic focus, and in conjuring up the most delicately cushioned of sound-worlds at the beginning of Chopin's Fourth Ballade. He also showed a wonderful ear for Schubertian colouring in the Sonata in A minor, D537. The six pieces of Brahms's Op. 118, however, never really gelled, never quite generated the necessary musical momentum.

Yet, most of the time in this pianistically rewarding but musically frustrating evening, it was easy to imagine that some minor adjustments of approach might put everything right. Franceschetti will be well worth watching out for, if and when that happens.

The Blind Fiddler

Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Jane Coyle

During the Belfast Festival of 1990, Charabanc Theatre Company presented a double bill of one act plays by Marie Jones. The first, Weddin's, Wee'ins and Wakes, was reworked as a full length musical last year. Now it is the turn of The Blind Fiddler of Glenadauch - as it was then titled - a small, poetic gem, which has glowed quietly in the memory throughout the intervening years. But time has taken its toll on the central motif of the upwardly-mobile Catholic community, reflected in the character of Mary Gormley, an ambitious mother, desperate for her children to succeed in life and, in her efforts to better them, apeing what she perceives to be the more socially acceptable mores of her Protestant neighbours. In spite of protests from her husband Pat, a mild-mannered man from the country, she moves herself and their children, Kathleen and Joe - a feisty, rebellious girl and a smug, brainy boy - out of their pub in Belfast's Markets area and into semi-detached suburbia. In their development of this full-length piece, Jones and director Ian McElhinney have focused on the handing down process from parents to children and its variable effects on subsequent generations.

But, here, the process divides rather too neatly between father-daughter, mother-son - the first inheriting a deep love of music and the old rural traditions, the second single-mindedly pursuing a high-profile career in the artistic spotlight.

Structurally, the story begins and ends with the intense concentration of character and storytelling of the original. But in between, the themes and characters meander rather uncertainly between the public and private lives of the Gormley family and Kathleen's cold experience of the Lough Derg pilgrimage, where the story begins. And it is there, in that central core, that the production loses heart and momentum.

Dan Gordon as Pat, Julia Dearden as Mary, John Hewitt as an assortment of local "characters", Frankie McCafferty as Joe and Carol Moore as Kathleen constitute as sound a cast as one could wish for, but there are times when they seem to lack a true sense of ownership and identification with their alter egos - though Moore and McCafferty provide plenty of laughter when they slip into squabbling children mode.

Still, this phenomenally successful writing-directing partnership knows exactly which buttons to press to keep its audience on side.

The twist in the tale is a piece of vintage Marie Jones and it is left to the supreme musicianship of Cathal Hayden and Mairtin O'Connor to set the theatre on fire and bring the audience to its feet.

Altogether a strange brew, but already a virtual sell-out.

Runs until July 5th

Masin, NSO/Brophy

NCH, Dublin

Martin Adams

Berlioz: Carnaval Romain Overture; Lalo: Symphonie espagnole; Tchaikovsky: Capriccio italien

The National Symphony Orchestra's summer-lunchtime concert series started on Tuesday at the National Concert Hall. The programme of just three works, all of them examples of 19th-century cultural evocation and orchestral virtuosity, was challenging.

One of the concert's consistent strengths was the clear orchestral balance. The NSO's assistant conductor, David Brophy, handled that aspect of Berlioz's Carnaval Romain Overture well, but blunted the work's potential impact through a style of phrasing which was too calculated for such swaggeringly rhetorical music.

Lalo's Symphonie espagnole is one of those pieces which works best with a little ironic distance between the performers and the music. It takes itself too seriously - over-written and over-long for its material - and this performance took it too seriously.

Gwendolyn Masin was in control of the solo violin part, but tried to squeeze more out of this piece than it can deliver. She was at her best when Lalo was in lighter vein, as in the fifth movement (the fourth was omitted), and when she was consequently more relaxed.

Capriccio italien is based on popular melodies Tchaikovsky encountered on a visit to Italy; and no composer is his equal in the plain presentation of popular material in a symphonic context.

Within a few seconds it became obvious that the orchestra and the conductor relished his astonishing command of material and instrumentation. It was not a flawless performance, but its impetuous vigour captured the music's varied character and the panache of its imagination.