Finghin Collins, Patricia Bardon, and others, at the Coach House, Dublin Castle, on 18 June 2017
Great Music in Irish Houses closes, as usual in recent years, with a ‘Dublin Musical Saunter’ involving a day of concerts in different venues across the city. We caught up with the last concert of the day, which doubled also as a birthday celebration for Finghin Collins (40) and Veronica Dunne (90). This gave it the feeling of a family celebration, and this sense of intimacy was further underscored with the choice of venue, the Coach House of Dublin Castle, now mainly used as an exhibition space.
The first two performers on stage are indeed family—the brother/sister combination of pianists Dearbhla and Finghin Collins, who sit together to play Schubert’s Fantasie in F minor for piano duet. While this is a popular piece for festivals and celebrations, there’s no getting away from the haunted quality of the music itself, especially the opening section, which the two players sensitively bring across. In the latter part of the piece, as the music rises, they nevertheless bring a wonderful sense of rippling energy and brio. The only downside is that, played on a modern grand piano with the lid fully raised, the sound naturally overwhelms the room’s limited acoustic.
After this expression of sibling congeniality, we are treated to a performance of one of the greatest expressions of cosy musical conviviality, Brahms’s ‘Liebeslieder-Walzer’, and the pianists are joined by singers Rachel Croash, Gemma Ní Bhriain, Patrick Hyland and Rory Musgrave. The singers play the roles of alternate revellers and entertainers well enough, though with variable degrees of polish from each singer, the women making the stronger impression. As is so often the case with this piece, however, the whole is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.
Honouring Veronica Dunne, the programme recalls her role, as the first singer to perform T.C. Kelly’s memorable setting of Pádraig Pearse’s The Mother, by reprising that song alongside a new setting by Sebastian Adams, specially commissioned by the festival. Accompanied by Finghin Collins (not often heard playing new music), Rachel Croash bravely sings both. While her natural bloom brings finesse to Kelly’s song, not even the most iron-clad vocal technique could compete with the interventionist role granted the piano in Adams’ setting, which succeeds in creating an opacity that obliterates much of the text.
The remainder of the recital is given over to one of Dunne’s most illustrious former students, mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon, and her short recital of songs by Brahms and Duparc, accompanied by Dearbhla Collins. This is a master-class of technique, projection, and interpretation, by a singer always in the moment, keenly illuminating every moment of her material. It is a gift in action, both a personal moment of thanks to a great teacher, and reminder of the lifelong work of art in the lives of everyone present, its difficulty and grace. And so this concert, an odd collection of moments like a strange family gathering, ends on a serious and joyous note almost despite itself.
Franz Schubert: Fantasie in F minor, D940
Johannes Brahms: Liebeslieder-Walzer, Op. 52
Sebastian Adams: The Mother
T.C. Kelly: The Mother
Brahms: Dein blaues Auge, Op. 59/8; Unbewegte laue Luft, Op. 57/8; Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer, Op. 105/2; Von ewiger Liebe, Op. 43/1
Henri Duparc: Extase; Sérénade Florentine; Chanson Triste