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S & H Concert Review

JOANNA MACGREGOR (piano) Blackheath Halls Sunday 17 March with related CDs from SoundCircus & Unknown Public (PGW)

Chick Corea
Children's Songs
Gyorgy Ligeti Fanfare, Rainbow & Autumn in Warsaw
Piazolla Milonga del Angel & Libertango
Bartok Sonata for Piano, Sz. 80
- - - - - -
Ives The Alcotts
Beethoven Sonata No. 32 in C Minor Op.111

This was the third of three remarkable Sunday morning concerts before the Easter break, attracting people from other parts of the capital and confirming Blackheath Halls' steadily increased standing in London's music life. The Recital Room was full once more for Joanna MacGregor, a popular charismatic pianist who has established her own record label. At first sight, the above sequence may look bizarre, but it worked wonderfully well and was supplemented by Joanna MacGregor's thoughtful programme notes; yes, she is an excellent writer, too! Chick Corea's 'modal harmonies and drone-like left hand' foreshadowed the Eastern European pieces to follow. Ligeti's Fanfare on ' a jazzy Bartok-like 3+2+3 pattern' linked to the latter's Sonata, 'ferocious physically and intellectually', before which Piazolla had provided listeners with a welcome interlude.

Ives The Alcotts, a movement from the Concord Sonata, is 'an improvisatory meditation on the opening 'fate' theme from Beethoven's 5th' and Joanna MacGregor pointed the connection by leading attacca straight into Op 111; nor did she pause before the Arietta, its famous third variation 'a truly jazzy, funky episode' for which Beethoven 'almost had to invent a notation to write down music that escaped the old regularities and reassurances of 3/4 and 4/4'. Everything except the Ligeti studies (their pages cast away to flutter down onto the floor) was played by memory and, to conclude a special recital, hers was a fresh, considered account of Op 111, which reassured us that this trendy, with-it pianist had not renounced the classical canon. Perhaps, there may have been an additional interest for Joanna MacGregor herself in needing to come to terms with the Blackheath Bösendorfer, which she confessed to me felt very different from the more usual Steinways she plays. Afterwards, mercifully, no encore!

Joanna MacGregor's most recent CD, SoundCircus SC007 , released in association with Unknown Public, includes Piazzolla, Ligeti, Nancarrow & Ives items played at Blackheath. It is a programme characteristic of her eclectic recitals, with juxtapositions of aesthetic opposites very much of the new century. Play is a sequence of mostly short items such as you might hear on R3's Late Junction. Cool, fastidious Byrd, melancholy Dowland and soothing Bach on the one hand, unplayable Ligeti and Nancarrow on the other (having seen her play them live, I can vouch that they are not over-dubbed!); exotic duets with Talvin Singh and Moses Molelekwa and much more (Molelekwa died 'shockingly young' shortly after Colin Still had described his London recital with MacGregor as 'one of the most inspired collaborations I've heard in a long time').

Having enjoyed and responded to most of the fifteen tracks, perhaps I may be forgiven for having found Somei Satoh's cosmic Incantation II overlong and, on the other hand, for suggesting that the minimalist miniaturist Howard Skempton's aspiration 'to write the perfect five-second work' might find its inspiration in John Cage's 4'33"? MacGregor here represents Cage with his Balanese-inspired dance for prepared piano, Sonata No.5. The presentation of Play, with a glossy colour-illustrated booklet, is luxurious and purposive, an increasingly uncommon combination from the 'major' companies.

Unknown Public's own releases have been hailed for their unstuffy, innovative freshness in both presentation and content. The latest is No.12 Talking Drums, edited by percussionist Paul Clarvis, with quasi-'classical' tracks of Varese, Ferneyhough and Tuur, and an assortment of ear-catching pieces selected because he likes them, by musicians and composers who refuse to be pigeon-holed. The notes designed by Jonathan Barnbrook & Pedro Inoue, each track on a separate card, are presented with such original and inventive typography as to comprise veritable works of art. And if that is not enough to tempt you, there is a bonus extra, .comp, a complimentary compilation of music from nine CMN tours from October 2000 to March 2001, introduced by Mark Russell, co-presenter of one of my favourite Radio 3 programmes, and a special offer for UP's most popular back issue (UP08 sensuality: essence & nonsense) with a reduced price subscription; a worth-while deal.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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