Since his teenage years, Finghin Collins has been feted as the rising Irish star of the pianistic world. Now celebrating his 40th birthday he has, like a fine Barolo, aged well, that first flush of excitement has mellowed to playing of great sensitivity and depth of feeling. If I had to sum up Collins’ playing in two words it would be "expressively thoughtful". The youthful bravura might have ceded somewhat but there was no lack of dynamism and energy which made for an utterly captivating performance.

Finghin Collins © Frances Marshall
Finghin Collins
© Frances Marshall

The choice of programme, while wide-ranging and appealing, lent itself to mature reflection. Schubert’s Four Impromtpus D899 contain some of his most intimate expressions for the piano, while Clara Schumann refused to play her husband’s Waldszenen as to her it was “haunted music”. There is indeed an otherworldly character to most of this set by Schumann something that can be noted too in the highly explorative Chopin Polonaise-fantaisie.

The opening Bach Partita no. 1 in B flat major was the only work tonight which was consistently joyfully. It was composed in Bach’s own words “for music lovers to refresh their spirits.” And refresh our spirits it most certainly did. Poised and polished, Collins uncovered their beauty through glistening passage-work and limpid articulation. The lines of the opening Praeludium unfolded with simplicity and sensitivity while the Allemande and Courante were dispatched with great charm, the lively bouncy rhythm of the latter ably executed. The stately dignity of the Sarabande contrasted nicely with the wit and humour of the Minuet while Collins made the concluding Gigue sparkle like a Swarovski crystal.

The highlight of the concert came with Schubert’s sophisticated gems, his D899 impromtus. Collins’ poetic and deeply expressive approach balanced intimate lyricism with shimmering pianism, dramatic declamations with caprice. His refined touch made for a sensitively shaped opening and a rippling second Impromtu which contrasted with the muscular octaves and passionate key changes. It was in the noble no. 3 in G-flat major that Collins beautifully revealed its expressive heart.

Revelling in their gentle charm, Collins captured the vivid programmatic element of Schumann’s Waldszenen. There was a vernal freshness to the gentle sway of the Eintritt (Entrance) while he made the Jäger auf der Lauer (Hunters on the Lookout) fizz with excitement. The constant mercurial changes of character were consistently impressive, from the whimsicality of Freundliche Landschaft (Friendly Landscape) to the jollity of the hunting song; from the quixotic avian humour in Vogel als Prophet (Bird as Prophet) to the delectable reflective mood of the final Abschied (Farewell). In this latter piece, Collins dared to sit back and allow the music to speak for itself in all its touching simplicity.

And so to concluding piece, the great, enigmatic masterpiece of Chopin’s final period the Polonaise-Fantaisie. Elegiac in style and explorative in its harmonic progressions, Collins launched straight away into the muscular chords which open this work with the answering meditative wisp of the arpeggiated figure trailing off into the ether. The start of the Polonaise proper was full of upbeat charm with some delectable voicing between the hands. The improvisatory nature and introspective meandering through the myriad of different keys that follows was imaginatively evoked. Uncharacteristically, given such intelligent and elegant playing throughout, the noble climax at the end of the piece disappointingly choked on an emotional overload. The wave of passion imploded in a rush of chords instead of singing out gloriously with a paean of joy.