Thursday 22 February 2018

Review: John O'Connor at the National Concert Hall - 'Every note appears to sing'

Pat O'Kelly

Due to his commitments abroad as well as his extensive teaching duties at home, John O’Conor’s performing appearances here are something of a rarity.

So, his recital this week in the NCH’s International Series marks his welcome return to its platform.

O’Conor’s substantial two-work Viennese programme recalls his student days there but more importantly it emphases Schubert and Beethoven, both synonymous with the Austrian capital.

Besides, Beethoven has become an integral part of O’Conor’s life since winning the coveted Beethoven Prize in Vienna over 40 years ago.

Pianist John O'Connor
Pianist John O'Connor

Now we hear the mature O’Conor in Schubert’s last B flat Piano Sonata written shortly before his death in 1828 and Beethoven’s last major piano work - the extraordinary Diabelli Variations completed in 1823.

I like most of the O’Conor’s Schubert. There is something special in the way he unfolds the long first movement. Schubert marked it molto moderato and there is nothing rushed in O’Conor’s gentle response to Schubert’s innermost thoughts and feelings.

O’Conor realises Schubert is the master of melody and, with delicacy of touch, he allows the composer’s ideas to flow through streams of unbroken expressiveness.

Schubert’s languid Andante is no less meaningful and O’Conor is delightfully nonchalant in Schubert’s diverting Scherzo. However, his Finale is just a shade too fast with his articulation a little hazy.

The journey through Beethoven’s 33 Diabelli Variations may be long but O’Conor makes it consistently interesting. Through his commanding interpretation, the music snaps, sways, swaggers, skips and saunters.

But every note appears to sing and each variation is made singularly relevant within the mammoth framework.

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