Brighton Year-Round 2019
Yoko Ono plays two of Schubert’s Impromptus D899, and two of Mompou’s Cancions e danzas, and Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite and No. 5 of Book 1 of his Preludes.
Yoko Ono admits she can’t keep away from Debussy, try as she might. Good thing too.
Ono started with the first and third Impromptus of Schubert’s first set, D899. The first, in C minor, is the longest to fall eight in either set. It’s a sombre andante, slowing to adagio, a kind of march with throbbing decay and a lyrical refrain. It’s haunting and Ono allows the gaunt clarity to radiate.
The G flat major is a lyrical piece, possibly the most popular and lyrically Schubertian of the Imprmptus. Ono’s clear-sighted way with the piece is a delight of crystalline expression.
Things got even more exciting with two of Frederico Mompou’s Canciones e danzas, Nos. 7 and 8. 7 is that famed, limpid folk melody, partially inspired from folk sources but rally Mompou’s own. Ono’s way with pristine clarity is special here. No, 8 is a more vibrant, even bustling affair, less typical of Mompou. Ono revels in the terracing we associate with her Debussy playing.
And that’s where we really hit Ono’s uniqueness. Her Debussy has just got finer and finer over the years. 2019 is the centenary of the tragically early death of his daughter Claude-Emma (Chou-Chu), a year after his own. Children’s Corner is a six-part suite written in 1908.
The first, ‘Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum’ is a fine, lightly syncopated piece highlighting the pedagogic elements, and finger independence, though too complex for anyone otherwise than a professional pianist to essay. ‘Jimbo’s Lullaby’ referring to a baby elephant is almost Ravelian in its somnolent whole-tone passagework. Ono fines down her tone and delivers this with a hint at terraced voices.
Pentatonics suffuse the ‘Serenade for the Doll’, an Allegro ma non troppo portrayal of a porcelain doll, played on the soft pedal. Again it’s a delicate intermezzo. ‘The Snow Is Dancing’ again allows a melody through independent with dark elements, tricky and potent. Ono again fines down to a hushed delivery as she did in the previous movement.
‘The Little Shepherd’ is a tale of a boy and his flute, solo with commentaries, even a faux breath-marking. It’s a bright glowing up-beat leading to the finale. This is ‘Golliwogg’s Cakewalk’ full of banjo effects and of course ragtime. The most famous, the most fantastically syncopated and strutting piece, Ono delights in driving this piece by no means all loud, but as from far away then far closer, a cubism in sound with its rapid tonal shifts.
To round off this ravishing part of the programme Ono played the fifth from Book 1 of the Preludes from 1910. ‘The Girl with the Flaxen Hair’, with its limpid opening, faster middle section and delicious, tender fade. Another portrait of the doomed Chou-Chou, dead of a botched operation at thirteen. Ono is sovereign in this music, and more particularly on this evidence enjoys a particular affinity with very late romanticism and early 20th century piano works. Magnificently idiomatic playing.