Noriko Ogawa at Wigmore Hall – Debussy & Takemitsu

Rain Tree Sketch II
Douze Études

Noriko Ogawa (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 1 October, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Noriko Ogawa. Photograph: Satoru MitsutaThe influence of Debussy can be keenly determined in the music of Toru Takemitsu, with whom Noriko Ogawa began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall. Rain Tree Sketch II bears a dedication to Olivier Messiaen, however, and was written on hearing of the composer’s death in 1992. Takemitsu’s use of contrasting thirds also reminds one of Janáček’s piano-writing, and the self-contained piece is tightly structured. Ogawa gave a concentrated performance that brought out the expansive textures of Takemitsu’s piano writing, the oscillating chords aided by the sustaining pedal.

This acted as an upbeat to Debussy’s last significant composition for piano. The Twelve Etudes make considerable demands on even the most accomplished pianist, but Ogawa had clearly mastered their every trick and pitfall. She began boldly, using the damper pedal cleverly to bring forward the inner workings of ‘pour les Cinq doigts’, while ‘pour les Octaves’ had a very imposing presence. At times there was a river of sound in the rich arpeggiated passages, the cascade of notes especially noticeable in the first Etude of Book Two, ‘pour les Degrés chromatiques’. By contrast the soft, breathy ‘pour les Agréments’ offered respite and space, Ogawa taking her time over the phrasing while shading the quieter moments with an acutely observed pianissimo.

Towards the end, in ‘pour les Notes répétees’, Ogawa missed a couple of the crucial repetitions, while in the final Etude ‘pour les accords’ she overlooked the top line of octaves. There was however a surety of thought and musicality in these performances that rendered such moments largely negligible. The loud blocks of sound in this final number showed how Ogawa’s fortissimo could easily carry to the back of the Hall without becoming harsh, while the expressive dissonances of ‘pour les Sonorités opposées’ were deliberately exposed, open and unresolved – looking forward in visionary terms to the piano literature of Messiaen and beyond.

After this often-thrilling account of the Études, Ogawa’s choice of encore was a mischievous one, the send-up of the UK National Anthem in ‘Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq.’ – from Book II of the Préludes – given with appropriate humour.

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