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Review: Brendan Kinsella concert in Utrecht

To play on a grand piano in a small room occupied with people is not an easy task. Brendan Kinsella, who did so in the Monument House in Utrecht last Saturday 2nd July 2011, found his ideal solution almost at the end of his recital. Before starting his final piece, Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, he spoke about the percussive aspect of the music and referred to the almost completely absence of a pleasing melody. After three-quarter of the recital this also sounded like a justification of his performances of the entire program.

He was at his best in music which demands first of all abrasiveness, slight rudeness as a positive form of direct energy and a sense of structure as derived from a strong sense of direction. The more a composer had another hierarchy in mind, the more Kinsella wrestled with the music.

In hindsight he played the music that suited him best after the intermission. In Beethoven and especially Rzweski a certain lack of refinement was more than compensated by an indestructible force and optimism that Americans can radiate proverbially. Even stronger, the more violent the music, the more refined Kinsella played, with the right sense of order between beauty and bestiality.

Before the intermission however a new charming piece by the Italian composer Leonardi and two quite serene and non-ostentatious pieces from Liszt’s late period sounded like well-intended lovely demonstrations of fluidity and nostalgia masked behind virtuosity for non-virtuosity’s sake. Poulenc’s Aubade, played in an interesting version for piano solo, would have benefitted from less muscle and more subtleties. To give more force than a hall can afford only works when the balance between energy and refinement is good.

Kinsella, who teaches in Texas, already performed in Carnegie Hall and deserves a wider Dutch audience, is probably very able to let Liszt and the Italian work sound with much more balance in case he plays in a big hall. The big size will force him to play the refined pieces on a grand scale which, unconventionally in his case, won’t lead to a decrease but to an increase in subtlety. All his verbal introductions proved his intellectual understanding of the music, the differences between the performances proved his coming mastery as an all-round musician.

Emanuel Overbeeke
Utrecht, 3 July 2011

Related links:
Monument House Concert Series
Brendan Kinsella website