PLG Young Artists New Year Series – 4

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Rautio Piano Trio [Jane Gordon (violin), Katherine Jenkinson (cello) & Jan Rautio (piano)]

Midori Sugiyama (violin)

Chisato Kusunoki (piano)


Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 10 January, 2007
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Jane Gordon and Jan Rautio were PLG Young Artists in the New Year Series 2004. Katherine Jenkinson then joined them. They won the Tillett Trust’s Young Musicians’ Platform in 2005 and are currently Leverhulme Chamber Music Fellows at the Royal Academy of Music. Their close association with the Florestan Piano Trio includes playing by invitation at the latter’s Peasemarsh Festival.

With four contrasting works, the trio demonstrated an admirable capability and versatility.

Judith Weir’s Piano Trio Two (sic) is written around three Zen stories that “resonate in the memory but do not reveal their secrets easily”. The work concerns somewhat cumbersome paradoxes of light and dark. The spare, austere opening consists of isolated notes and chords that may prove to be some statement of relatedness. The ultimate “joyous dance, built on a scale pattern of my own invention; a raga perhaps” was animated but not quite exuberant. The sounds seem rooted in the experiment of several decades ago. The performance was duly serious.

Luke Bedford’s Chiaroscuro (world premiere of the revised version) presented light and dark, too – quarter-tone melodies and an 11/16 time-signature. The surging flow and warm sonority had the richness of a Schumann trio. This was a smooth port to follow Weir’s austere repast. Stylistically, Jane Gordon and Katherine Jenkinson were matched, elegantly and delightfully. They could be sisters, and not just in their looks. John Casken, in his Piano Trio, occasionally recalls the café-concert ensemble, with ingratiating arias from his opera God’s Liar. At times, we heard Katherine Jenkinson’s Stradivarius in silken sound – she is a rather diffident player. To finish, the trio played the previously unadvertised Three Dancers by Thomas Hynde, inspired by a 1925 Picasso depicting cubistic dancers and a flowing blue sea. The music was engaging, tonal and quirky, with the hint of a tango. The spirited playing nodded towards Poulenc – though the wit wasn’t quite there in the writing.

Midori Sugiyama graduated with distinction from the Royal Northern College of Music last July. Her four pieces for solo violin began with Schnittke’s A Paganini – a vigorous, less than coherent medley illustrating the Paganini technical firecrackers through snatched references to his Caprices. The opening and close comprises a drone with a sustained, underlying trill – a fascinating sound, played here with magisterial assuredness. Kunimitsu Takeuchi’s ‘Koyou’ from Rakubaisyu begins quietly, speaking with an impressive inner strength in stark accents and brusque contrasts. Takeuchi’s timeless Orient develops increasing power; a fast middle section releases energy before we return to the terse, concentration with which we began. Sugiyama’s playing had an arresting presence.

The remaining two pieces for solo violin were the highlight of the evening. Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VIII and Adam Gorb’s Klezmer, in their different styles, run the gamut of exploitable possibilities for solo violin writing in contemporary style. Berio’s majestic and varied statements show the instrument as having dignity and dramatic sonority, while deliberately giving only mere hints of lyric capability. Klezmer, on the other hand, is dark, melodic and impassioned – a well-matched counterpart to Berio’s timeless monument. Sugiyama’s playing of these difficult pieces was definitive, unforgettable in interpretative command.

Chisato Kusunoki, German by birth and an Oxford graduate, took her postgraduate performance diploma from the Royal Academy of Music with distinction. She subsequently gave recitals throughout England and Japan, as well as performing with the Allegri String Quartet.

Justin Connelly’s Sonatina in Five Studies introduced us to a staggering technique; Takemitsu’s Litany brought a dignified repose, a sense of time and space, a stillness of mind. These qualities were picked up later in Howard Skempton’s Three Nocturnes – very spare in their notation, yet nevertheless rich in their sonority. This, too, is unhurried music, spacious and timeless. Both Takemitsu’s and Skempton’s pieces were spiritually and emotionally rewarding, especially when played with Kusunoki’s understanding and sympathy. Her last contribution, Nikolai Kapustin’s Concert Etude (Opus 40/Number1) was a romp – a riot of exuberant virtuosity whose cross rhythms and pungent harmonies revelled in a jazz-based, rock-based vitality.

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