Recent festivals have shown interest in using venues not connected with Queen's University itself. Clonard Monastery has become a favourite for concerts of a larger or even spiritual dimension. But I wondered how the resonance of Clonard, so apt for choral and orchestral music, would suit a solo piano recital by Swedish-born Roland Pontinen.
Pontinen has a formidable technique, probably capable of playing anything from Bach to Ligeti. His preference apparently is for nineteenth/early twentieth century composition so it was no surprise if perhaps slightly regretful that his unusual festival recital last night held few repertoire surprises.
He began with Ravel's Sonatine, an early work presaging some of the flourishes and flamboyance of the composer's later style. It was immediately clear that very little would be clear as the Clonard acoustic took over, the predominant effect despite the pianist's best efforts. There were some moments of magical delicacy but these tended to be when the dynamic was soft. Ravel's music demands huge subtlety for its harmonies to be fully comprehensible. It simply wasn't possible for this to happen most of the time and I thought that Pontinen soon realised his distracting problem as he began to unravel in the second and third movements.
The scene was inevitably set now and in a transcription of Prokofiev's ballet Cinderella there was an unfortunate tendency for the acoustic to exaggerate sforzandi in particular, lending grotesqueness rather than excitement to the music as a result. The impressive plethora of notes was swallowed by the wash of sound as detail sank without trace.
After the interval, Chopin's F sharp minor Nocturne fared better because of the slow harmonic pace and simple melody and accompaniment but the sparkle of the fourth Scherzo was tarnished from the opening bar.
The palpable lack of distinguishable layers in the final Granados selection was frustrating, despite the familiarity of at least one of the pieces; the music lost perspective and became one dimensional.
Pontinen's recital was a real disappointment and the victim of a serious misjudgement to have been placed in this venue.