Simon O’Connor: What is living and what is dead

Reviewed on Fri 26 May, 2017

There’s something of Ravel in O’Connor’s exquisitely pastel palette, an echo of Peter Maxwell Davies in its liquescent ebb and flow ... Michael McHale plays with the utmost care for tonal detail and under-stated textural sophistication.

You won’t hear anything of Dubliner Simon O’Connor’s punk-band past in this plaintive and brittle, playful and beautiful, ruminative and rich, hour-long work for solo piano. It takes its title from a lecture by the late historian Tony Judt, in which, the composer notes, he suggested “that the past may guide a path through our present and perilous sea”. That philosophical perspective is teased out here by music that moves with a glacial pace interrupted by turbulent surges but always exuding a gentle, glowing warmth. There’s something of Ravel in O’Connor’s exquisitely pastel palette, an echo of Peter Maxwell Davies in its liquescent ebb and flow, but the translucent limpidity of the textures, the thoughtful intensity of expression, the underlying tenderness that binds the whole hypnotically together are wholly O’Connor’s. Belfast pianist Michael McHale plays with the utmost care for tonal detail and under-stated textural sophistication. The recorded sound’s cosseting bloom adds to the considerable pleasure.
–Michael Quinn