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RYAN MOLOY - Pianophony 

RYAN MOLOY - Pianophony 
Private Label 

The piano’s sound is dominated by the solemnity of the individual notes as well as the ability of the player. Ryan Molloy is an accomplished pianist and his debut solo album, Pianophony, examines the role of the piano as an expressive vehicle for Irish music. This role, over the years, has been chequered – from the place of the two-note accompaniment for dance tunes as recorded in the 50s, through to the 70s and its later reconstruction as a melodic instrument in the hands of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. The mammoth shadow of influence he holds, as well as that of his mentor Sean O’Riada, is palpable, and can be heard in the music of Ryan Molloy, who follows in the footsteps of Mícheál along with his contemporaries like Caoimhín Vallely and others.

Listening to Pianophony, where the piano is the sole instrument (apart from the voice of Shauna Mullin), it’s clear that while the influence of Mícheál is evident, there is also real individualism at work. Ryan can handle playing the airs and dance tunes on the piano in the same way as the late Arty McGlynn played them on guitar - the focus is on the tune and its movement – and the singularity of the piano sound makes for a formal listening challenge. It’s a focussed experience, whether on an air like The Wounded Hussar or The Mountains Of Pomeroy, or a jig like The Battering Ram, or reel as in The Broken Pledge/Dinny O'Brien's - each tune emerges as a singular solitary being, demonstrating its identity.

The result is a solitary experience, though not lonely, and the vocal appearance by Shauna Mullin lifts the air into something more cerebral. My initial experience of her singing found elements of June Tabor, Nico and indeed Maria Callas in their explorations of the deeper, darker sounds of the vocal range. Here, shades of another diva appear in the midst, this time Dolores Keane, in versions of Craigie Hill and The Mountain Streams. Shauna’s contributions raise the possibility of duet shows and unlimited other opportunities. Meantime, whether leading or accompanying, Ryan Molloy’s playing is nothing short of exemplary as this breath-taking collection shows.

John O’Regan


This review appeared in Issue 132 of The Living Tradition magazine