CD Review: Finghin Collins

CD Review: Finghin Collins

Schumann: Works for Piano, Volume 1 Claves 50-2601/02 (2 CDs)

Pianist Finghin Collins turns 30 this year, but this marvellously inventive and imaginatively realised first volume of a projected Schumann series, on the Swiss-based Claves label, reveals an almost preternatural maturing, the young Dubliner having first came to international attention in a flurry of Irish and international competition success in the second half of the 1990s.

Schumann featured all too fleetingly on Collins’ eloquently varied debut recital on RTÉ Lyric fm in 2005 (Impromptu, CD104) in the shape of the compact Op 18 Arabeske that made one eager to hear more. And here is more, in rich, overflowing abundance: two CDs’ worth book-ended by fantasy (the early Op 12, complete with the rarely-appended ‘Feurigst’, and late Op 111) and borne along in between on musical stepping stones that time has transformed into telling touchstones of the piano repertoire across which Collins lightly steps in a near-straight chronological line.
Such is the vivid portrait he offers of a composer for whom love was often dislocatingly whimsical, that it is a pity that this may well be Collins’ sole contribution to a ‘complete works’ project that is intended to run to six double-disc volumes, each, it seems, to be played by a different pianist.

No matter. We should be thankful for what we have here, and that amounts to something special indeed. While Collins’ wide-ranging resourcefulness in the concert hall has often suggested the makings of a very good all-rounder, it comes as a more than pleasant surprise to find revealed in these performances a facility that can dissect and reassemble so atomised a body of work as Schumann’s with such forensic and poetic care.

Collins shows himself especially adept at finding the apposite tone for Schumann’s quicksilver mood changes, especially noticeable in his realising the dual personalities that infuse the deliciously dreamy Op 12 Fantaisiestücke and the contrarily severe, thrillingly delivered Humoreske.

Equally arresting are the two major pieces that form the bulk of the second disc: Kinderszenen delicately nimble and love-lit with Collins rightly refusing to indulge dilute sentimentality, Waldszenen an impressionistic kaleidoscope tempered by magical nature and nocturnal mystery. In each he finds due attitude and multi-faceted characterisation, setting each down with a technical dexterity and emotional sophistication that impresses with every note. It’s a measure of the distance travelled in just a few years that the Arabeske heard here is marginally slower because more considered.

The directness of expression that characterises the approach throughout is beautifully framed by the centred and slightly forward placing of the piano in the warm, resonant acoustic of Lausanne’s Salle Métropole. If Collins is not to contribute further to this series, he has set the bar almost impossibly high for those who are, unenviably, to follow him, and in doing so he has raised himself into a more elevated bracket altogether.

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Published on 1 May 2007

Michael Quinn is a freelance music and theatre journalist based in Co. Down.

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