John O’Conor at the National Concert Hall. 27th April 2015
As something of a well-established institution in the Irish musical world at this stage, audiences can be fairly confident that when they come to see John O’Conor perform, they will be treated to, at the very least, a competent performance. Tonight’s performance, of just two works, from Schubert and Beethoven, shows just why that is so.
Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major is a work of grand scale and scope. The opening tonight is warm and cleanly balanced, O’Conor’s playing bringing out the vibrant colours of Schubert’s melodies. Though he brings a darkly humorous touch to the piece, his approach is somewhat restrained, a restraint that at times serves to smooth over the more intense passages.
The Andante second movement is an altogether more pensive affair. The slowly developing melodic ideas are here given plenty of space, with O’Conor’s playing measured throughout. The third movement (Scherzo) calls for a light touch, one ably handled by O’Conor. Quick and lively, it stands in marked contrast to what has come before. The fourth and final movement opens on an equally light note, before taking a more serious turn. Though never less than technically adept, O’Conor’s reading of Schubert’s work doesn’t quite manage to become more than the sum of its parts.
Not often performed, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations are something of challenge for any pianist. Physically demanding, and with a set of variations that stretch the form to its utmost, the work calls for a constantly shifting textural palette. From the opening bombast of the maestoso first variation to the gentle measures of the fourth, O’Conor shows an assured command of Beethoven’s music. The presto tenth variation is physical, precise and well-balanced. Variation 17, with its forceful bass tones and incessant figures in the right hand is equally well-handled.
Bringing these disparate variations together in a coherent manner is no mean feat – from the subtle beauty of the fughetta 24th to the great rolling triplet figures of the 27th, O’Conor shows a real sensitivity to Beethoven’s writing. The final variations, building from the spellbinding melodies of the andante 30th to the intricately developed lines of the penultimate variation, are no less beautifully played, before the last variation brings the evening to a close.
Schubert – Sonata in B flat major, D 960
Beethoven – Thirty-three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli Op. 120