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S&H Contemporary Musicreview

Spanish Contemporary Music; ANAKI : Inaki Alberdi (accordion) & Ananda Sukarlan (piano) Royal Academy of Music, London, 17 April. Britten, Takemitsu & Japanese Cross-Over; ENSEMBLE TOZAI Blackheath Halls,18 April (PGW)

National interests are pursued indefatigably in London, and as rallying grounds for musical expatriates, but may need to be sought out in less important venues; it can be risky putting on chamber music recitals of rare music in remoter parts of the metropolis. On successive evenings I attended distinctive Spanish and Japanese concerts.

At the Royal Academy of Music, in association with the Instituto Cervantes at Eaton Square, a fair number came to hear ANAKI (Ananda Sukarlan & Inaki Alberdi) explore contemporary possibilities for their combination of piano & accordion. Newly founded, they have begun by developing a repertoire of Iberian music, but intend to promote themselves with composers all over the world, and they invite contact from young composers interested to work closely with them, very necessary because the button accordion is so different from usual western recital instruments.

Monodias Espanolas had Spanish folk tunes elaborated on the piano with Indonesian influence, in the Montreal-domiciled Jose Evangelista's characteristic monodic manner. The splendid Pigini concert accordion is so penetrating that they would have been better advised to have had the piano lid fully open. Soinua by Gabriel Erkoreka made pleasant sounds but seemed to lose its way; only one of Luis de Pablo's three new pieces was given, so a response will have to be deferred until receipt of the recording of a full performance, to be made in August. Accentus by Jesus Torres, utilising medieval hocketing techniques, and a Diario by David del Puerto (variations composed one each day) were the most successful, the latter demonstrating the best interaction between the instruments with energy and a sense of direction. Overall, the accordion/piano combination has far more potential than was revealed in this programme.

Blackheath Halls next evening offered discreet coloured illumination with informal table arrangements in the Recital Room, to provide atmosphere for ENSEMBLE TOZAI, and candles made it just possible still to read our programmes, in which translations and (unusually) transliterations of the original Japanese were given, to the ensemble's credit.

Joji Hirota (percussion doubling voice), Renzan Kudoh (shakuhachi) and Reiko Fujisawa (piano) had enjoyed good attendances at South Bank Centre during the Japan 2001 Festival, but only a tiny audience came to Blackheath. They are all good musicians and reported successful touring, but their East meets West theme was only variably successful, with idioms veering wildly! Joji Hirota is a superlative taiko drummer and his free improvisation on a mellow-toned drums and gongs percussion set, in duet with the admirable flute playing of Renzan Kudoh on several different shakuhachis, was the most successful item for this listener. Hirota's Rhapsodic Dawn was too episodic, with passages for Reiko Fujisawa redolent of hotel restaurant tea-time piano playing. Hirota's plangent traditional Japanese folk-style singing was affecting (he tried to get us to join in one of the choruses) but traditional tunes were undermined by piano accompaniments that smacked of early 20 C. English folk song settings, a style now hopelessly dated. Some of those folk songs can also be heard on RealWorld CDRW82 with string quintet! Rain Forest Dream Saydisc SDL 384 confirms Hirota's multi-instrumental skills, but also that he aims for 'World Music' easy listening.

That Reiko Fujisawa is a good pianist was clear in two early Britten pieces, Moderato & Nocturne, and three of Toshi Ichiyanagi's Cloud Atlas - an unknown composer in UK, they were far more interesting than the derivative Rain Tree Sketch II representing the ubiquitous and obligatory Takemitsu; once again I was persuaded that Takemitsu is over-rated and over-exposed in UK. Despite remonstrations, there were half a dozen microphones to amplify the music for a dozen listeners, with the inevitable background hum which compromises silent background! Never can Takemitsu's fragilities have suffered thus - the pianist found it as peculiar as we did.

The hybrid event had been treated as 'a gig' rather than a concert. Despite my reservations, the atmosphere was good, helped by informal introductions from the stage, and all in all it made for an unusual but enjoyable evening. ENSEMBLE TOZAI has a CD on the way - it will be interesting to hear what sort of programme they put together.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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