Mayuko Katsumura & Noriko Kawai at Purcell Room

Sonata in D for Violin and Keyboard, HWV371
Fantasie brilliante on themes from Gounod’s Faust, Op.20
Sonata No.1 in F minor for Violin and Piano, Op.80

Mayuko Katsumura (violin) & Noriko Kawai (piano)

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 26 September, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Purcell Room

Mayuko KatsumuraMayuko Katsumura and frequent recital partner Noriko Kawai delivered a wide-ranging programme in this recital, touching on a host of strands of the violin’s repertoire. Katsumura studied in London a decade ago, before embarking on a run of successful competition appearances and concert performances, particularly in Romania. Kawai is more likely to be encountered on the contemporary music circuit, having worked with composers such as James Dillon and Gerald Barry.

Handel’s music for violin is rarely heard these days away from the world of historically informed performance, but Katsumura’s performance of the D major Sonata made no concessions to ‘authenticity’. Her Handel was unashamedly romantic in conception, amply swathed in vibrato and bouncing excitedly in the faster movements. A certain richness of tone, though, was absent and she wasn’t able to give the music the weight imparted by Kawai at the piano.

Katsumura was able to move with pleasing flexibility around the violin’s first entry in Wieniawski’s Fantasie brilliante on themes from Gounod’s Faust, written by the great Polish violinist for his own performance. It’s essentially a medley of hits from the popular nineteenth-century opera, but liberally dusted with virtuosic passages that sorely tested Katsumura’s abilities.

She was more comfortable with Prokofiev’s bracingly bleak First Violin Sonata, completed shortly after the Second World War with the dazzling playing of David Oistrakh in mind. Its angular idiom seemed to suit Katsumura’s spare sound better and she attacked the stuttering repetitions of the scherzo with glee. It was her accompanist, though, who impressed in the haunting Andante: her whispered line demonstrated the delicacy of her touch. Few of Prokofiev’s works bear a greater pain and anguish than this, summed up by the scurrying muted passage – first heard in the opening movement and recalled in the last – famously compared to wind rushing through a graveyard (though those new to the work wouldn’t have known this from the programme note), though Katsumura gave the impression of not fully investing in its chilly spirit.

Another operatic extract, to compliment the Wieniawski, rounded out this short programme, the ‘Méditation’ from Massenet’s opera Thaïs – a startling contrast with the Prokofiev.

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