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S & H Recital Review

ENSEMBLE SAKURA Purcell Room, SBC, 28 Jan 2002 (PGW)


Japan 2001
Kyoko Koyama piano
Sumine Hayashibara violin
Emiko Kitazawa marimba

Andrew Melvin: Sakura Sakura Sakura (1st performance)
Junnosuke Yamamoto: Shakkei (1st performance)
Toshi Ichiyanagi: Paganini Personal
Jo Cutler: RetroKitty (1st UK performance)
Asako Miyaki: El mar del tiempo perdido (The Sea of Lost Time)
Masami Okamoto: Mon'yo (a Pattern) - tone poem for piano (1st performance)
Masami Okamoto: Cherry Blossoms (1st performance)
Hikaru Ishi: Migakazuba Variations (1st UK performance)

These three young women demonstrated forcefully the viability of an unusual instrumental combination, and a healthy new music composing scene which draws on Western and Japanese elements, represented by a judicious mix of compositions by English and Japanese composers of several generations.

Toshi Ichiyanagi's Paganini Personal for marimba & piano was yet another very successful set of continuous variations on the Caprice no 24, which has inspired as many composers as La Folia or Diabelli's little minuet. Both players are confident virtuosi, equal to all that was thrown at them, and the piece is often witty, and as wide ranging and imaginative as, say, Lutoslawski's popular set for two pianos. My only slight caveat was that the marimba, when played with hard sticks, can easily dominate, so that the balance was sometimes skewed a little too much in its favour. Joe Cutler's energetic piece for the trio was mostly rhythmic to manic, very invigorating. Asako Miyaki's The Sea of Lost Time is a substantial work for unaccompanied violin, drawing on Bach but not slavishly, and it would go well with one of the Partitas. Its sustained high harmonics over-stretched Sumine Hayashibara's technique - I would love to hear it given by an Anne-Sophie Mutter or by Mieko Kanno for whom extended techniques would hold no terrors. Sumine Hayashibara also lacked the necessary panache to bring off the outrageous Migakazuba Variations by the nonogenarian Hikaru Ishi (1903-95), a compendium of all Western 20th C. styles with a grandiloquent late-romantic finale - this one needed a Vengerov and an already hyped-up audience!

The best work, and best performed, was Sakura Sakura Sakura by Andrew Melvin (b.1969), tailor-made for these three players and one that should not be allowed to escape. Ex-RAM & the Guildhall, Melvin has studied in Japan and developed a Haiku Album project of works by Japanese and English composers. This completely original piece has eight small movements, some linked, with pared-down focus on tiny gestures and few notes, clusters treated as in Kurtag's Games, and a big surprise in which the composer suddenly emerged to join the players in a concerted vocalised lesson in Japanese for Beginners before he darted out again backstage. A marvellous cross fertilisation of two cultures.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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