Concert Review

Joanna MacGregor, piano & Andrew Stones, digital projections Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 17 November 1999

You can expect the unexpected with Joanna MacGregor. This recital, part of a Contemporary Music Network tour, was presented as an audio-visual package, with the programme skilfully arranged as a 'listening experience'.

The first half contrasted old and new to intriguing effect. Byrd's Hughe Ashton's Ground, a model of restrained elaboration, preceded Thomas Adès's Traced Overhead - capricious, even reckless as MacGregor interprets it. Dowland's Forlorn Hope Fancy was a placid introduction to the intricacies of Birtwistle's Harrison's Clocks; though the precision-controlled virtuosity of Nos. 3-5 might have made even greater impact had they been separated by the introspection of the renaissance master. The second contrpunctus from Bach's Art of Fugue led with startling inevitability into three of Conlon Nancarrow's player-piano studies, MacGregor synchronizing her live parts with those of the piano roll to vivid effect. Study No 6 has a relaxed lilt, whilst No 11 takes live keyboard virtuosity to its limits, as MacGregor herself acknowledged.

The six items of the second half were played almost continuously, beginning with the atmospherics of Matthew' Fairclough's … altered ends, revealed beginnings … , before the deep contemplation of Somei Satoh's Incarnation II: music whose gentle but complex waves of sound MacGregor is right to take the trouble to promote. Cage's Water Music is a real blast from the past, but still has the capacity to amuse - and bemuse! - an audience. MacGregor's own Dance It is a calling card for her musicianship in much the same way that Cathy Berberian's Stripsody was for hers, and far more enjoyable than Jonathan Harvey's reverential rambling through some appropriate clichés in his Tombeau de Messiaen. The allemande from Bach's Fourth Partita made a gentle touch-down for the advertised programme, although MacGregor had one final ace in Alasdair Nicolson's scintillating transcription of Harry Warren's 42nd St, counterpointed by fast-moving images to giddying effect.

Elsewhere, Andrew Stone's 'digital projections' were either diverting - the Nancarrow graphic realizations; dutiful - the clock images in the Birtwistle, too slow moving to enhance the music - and, in the 'early pieces', merely an irritant.

Bach, Byrd, Dowland et al make their impression purely through the actual notes and the listener's receptiveness. No degree of mixed-media presentation can pretend otherwise. Yet Joanna MacGregor's conviction in reinventing the piano recital should never be doubted. Catch her future performances, and check out her CDs on her internet-only SoundCircus label at

SC 002 Outside in Pianist includes the Dowland, Nicolson and Satoh pieces; SC 003 Perilous Night has Cage's Sonatas and Interludes, plus various new works and commissions


Richard Whitehouse




Seen&Heard is part of Music on the Web(UK) Webmaster: Len Mullenger

Return to: Seen&Heard Index

Return to: Music on the Web