Michael McHale at the Little Museum of Dublin, on 27 January 2016
Pianist Michael McHale presents the fourth in the current season of Santa Rita Concerts at the Little Museum, with a programme centred on the Four Impromptus, Op. 50 [D.899], of Franz Schubert. Produced by Ergodos, this is their newest project – following similar meditations on Bach, Léonin and the song repertory – here focusing solely on music for solo piano, with the four Schubert pieces framing three new works by Simon O’Connor, Benedict Schlepper-Connolly and Garrett Sholdice. The narrow ground-floor gallery space used for the concert suggests the domestic salons of Schubert’s time, with the grand piano placed in the middle and the audience seated both ahead and behind.
The Impromptus are playful, testing pieces, veering between technical brilliance, heroic weight and disarming lightness, and are as good as any introduction to Schubert’s Romantic pianism. McHale’s approach to these works is crisply determined and intense, and the power of the instrument itself at times threatens to overwhelm the intimate acoustic. The intensity is nevertheless carried through with insightful, fluid playing, and makes the moments of weightless rapture (such as in the Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat) all the more telling.
In between the four impromptus, the three new pieces function as interludes, connecting what we’ve heard with new ideas. O’Connor’s Self portrait takes the chord-and-respond idea of the opening bar of the first impromptu and refines it into a minimalist vocabulary. Its exploratory gestures suggest improvisation, before broadening into a warm dénouement. Schlepper-Connolly’s Was du mir warst [‘what you were to me’] – the title comes from a letter Schubert wrote to his close friend Franz von Schober – is beautifully contemplative, its circling figures evoking movement and return, whilst exploiting a variety of touch as its gentle rhetoric explores different sonic textures. The spare openness of The dreams flow down, too by Garrett Sholdice gradually draws its material to greater density, ideas coming in and out of phase like apparitions, before gently scattering to nothing.
The effect of interspersing these pieces with the Schubert is inevitably provocative, the energetic opening bars of each successive impromptu a clear jump away from the calm endings of the new pieces. The objectivity of the new also contrasts with the deep subjectivity of the old, casting the familiar material in a new and sympathetic light. Hopefully this is not a unique performance, as the material deserves to be heard more widely; in any case a CD recording of the programme is released this same evening.
Franz Schubert: Impromptu No. 1 in C minor, D.899.1
Simon O’Connor: Self portrait
Franz Schubert: Impromptu No. 2 in E-flat major, D.899.2
Benedict Schlepper-Connolly: Was du mir warst
Franz Schubert: Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat major, D.899.3
Garrett Sholdice: The dreams flow down, too
Franz Schubert: Impromptu No. 4 in A-flat major, D.899.4
Michael McHale, piano
Recording (Schubert: Four impromptus) available from ergodos.ie