Joanna MacGregor

Prelude No.1
Choro No.1
Canto Triste
Baden Powell/Moraes
Lamento de Exu
Canto de Ossanha
Tangos [arr. MacGregor]: Tanguedia; Buenos Aires; Hora Cero; Milonga del Angel; Michelangelo 70; Soledad; Libertango

Joanna MacGregor (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 18 September, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This was a typically inventive programme from Joanna MacGregor, whose blend of virtuosity and sensitivity made for an absorbing hour of South American music, here realised largely in her own piano arrangements.

Brazil and Argentina dominated the programme, the former represented by Villa-Lobos, Gismonti and De Moraes, the latter by MacGregor’s closely integrated suite of tangos by Astor Piazzolla.

Between the groupings of pieces MacGregor spoke fondly and with endearing humour about the music, providing valuable pointers and personal insights. We were told of explosive tango sessions with Piazzolla’s group, and that the ‘Soledad’ is a “brooding portrait of a man with no name”, evoking for the pianist Clint Eastwood in one of his most famous cinematic roles. MacGregor brought to this piece a deep-seated melancholy, as she did to ‘Milonga de Angel’, while the biting, militaristic approach of Tanguedia really made the audience sit up.

The syncopation defining the tango rhythm was totally natural, the music completely under MacGregor’s fingers, while in the famous ‘Libertango’ she reached into the piano, damping the wires to secure an even more percussive lower-register opening.

Before this stormy music MacGregor chose four sensitively arranged Afro-sambas. The melancholy sweetness of Canto Triste was moving in its soft timbre, the tender octaves at the end nicely done. Lamento de Exu once again utilised the lowest register of the piano with stunningly clear definition, while the shuffling rhythm of Insensatez supported a melody derived from Chopin’s E minor Prelude. It should be noted that the Baden Powell listed is not the Chief Scout, but a guitarist/songwriter named in his honour!

To start MacGregor chose an arrangement of two Villa-Lobos guitar favourites. Choro No.1 found an unexpected parallel with the later Tanguedia of Piazzolla, both pieces making use of a punctuating three-note motif; MacGregor was perhaps a touch fast here but rather more languid in the shafts of sunlight found in the Prelude.

Her no-holds-barred virtuosity was best defined in Egberto Gismonti’s Frevo, a flurry of notes played with considerable élan. With MacGregor covering all registers at inhuman speed, the effect was rather like jumping head-first into a waterfall, the fast melodies not at all obscured by the dimension of the piano sound.

With a modest “thank you” MacGregor took quite an ovation, rewarded by her own embellishment of Tadd Dameron and Nina Simone’s bluesy “Good Bait”, a first hint of North America, and completing an extremely uplifting hour of music.

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