While pianist Finghin Collins pursues a busy international career he also finds time to act as artistic director of both the late September New Ross Piano Festival and Music for Galway. The latter spreads itself across ‘the season’ and enshrines a Midwinter Festival in January. Although Collins’ brainchild, his Galway committee actively supports its theme and programme.
The 2019 Festival opens tomorrow (January 18) and continues until Sunday. Entitled ‘Swansong – Intimations of Mortality’, this may imply a sense of foreboding but the selected music presents its own spirit of adventure in works written towards the end of the chosen composers lives. In many cases one can recognise inspirational reawakening.
Collins calls the festival “a salute to the final works of great composers [where they] express those deep felt emotions that only intimations of mortality can evoke”. The theme will be explored in the opening talk – ‘Indian Summers: Brahms, Strauss and a sense of the past’ – tomorrow afternoon by musicologist Richard Wigmore.
The festival’s artistic line-up is impressive. Led by Collins himself, his troupe includes soprano Ailish Tynan; Dutch baritone Henk Neven; London clarinettist Michael Collins and English pianist Leon McCawley. The ConTempo Quartet provides the supporting ensemble with its members also engaged in several separate roles.
The opening concert is a case in point with ConTempo heard together in a selection from Bach’s The Art of the Fugue before two of its members – Bogdan Sofei and Adrian Mantu – join Leon McCawley for Fanny Mendelssohn’s Op 11 Piano Trio.
Born in Hamburg in 1805, Fanny was the older sister of Felix Mendelssohn. A gifted musician and composer, some of her songs and piano music were initially published under Felix’s name. Living in Berlin, she married the Prussian court painter Wilhelm Hensel in 1829 and, with his support, published several volumes of her music in her own name. Sadly, Fanny died from a cerebral haemorrhage on May 14, 1847.
The other main work tomorrow evening is Richard Strauss’s ravishing Four Last Songs completed in 1948. Ailish Tynan sings them to Finghin Collins piano accompaniment.
Saturday afternoon brings an interesting trio of duo sonatas – Debussy’s violin with Sofei and McCawley, Poulenc’s clarinet with Michael Collins and McCawley and Shostakovich’s viola with Andreea Banciu and Finghin Collins.
The evening programme finds ConTempo unravelling Beethoven’s intricate Op 133 Grosse Fuge and the movement that replaced it as the finale of his Op 130 Quartet. ConTempo also pays tribute to Fauré though his last composition – the E minor Quartet.
Saturday’s late night recital is devoted to Schubert’s Schwanengesang (Swansong) cycle with Henk Neven and Finghin Collins while Sunday morning has an interview with octogenarian composer John Kinsella as well as offering his 5th Quartet. Brahms’ Op 115 Clarinet Quintet, with Michael Collins and ConTempo, promises another festival highlight.
A potpourri of pieces rounds off the Festival’s live element on Sunday afternoon before a screening of Visconti’s Death in Venice masterpiece. With Dirk Bogarde and Mahler’s music, it draws the final curtain.
Tickets at the Town Hall Theatre venue – 091 569777 or www.musicforgalway.ie