FringeReview UK 2018
Gemma Kateb plays Albeniz, Ginastera, Mompou, with a larger selection of Granados, Mendelssohn and particularly Chopin.
London-based Gemma Kateb’s a returning new name, known for chamber, accompaniment and increasingly as soloist. She debuted at St Nicholas in April, returning as recently as October 31st . It’s good she’s played here too.
In an individual programme – again Spanish. Mendelssohn and Chopin – she brings a bright palette to music where it’s so easy to pedal atmosphere like stage smoke. Kateb blows that away.
She began with Albeniz Cordoba from Danzas Espagnoles. It’s one of Albeniz’ actively lyrical pieces, tenebrous with the cultural mix of south. Kateb who has true musicianly instinct for Spanish music, was settling in with this piece which she’s not played before.
Enrique Granados (1868-1916) died after trying to rescue his wife after their ship was torpedoed in the Channel. Three of his Danzas Espanolas were featured, the last the greatest and best known. Kateb’s played these before and is even more inside this idiom – though these two composers are linked they’re different too. Granados is the more perhaps the miniaturist, and jewel-like.
No. 1 ‘Galante’s theme starts with a downbeat and a striding figure before evoking flamenco turns and sudden agogic hesitation: a world gauzed through the great 18th harpsichordist like Scarlatti, Soler, Seixas.
No. 2 is far more melancholic. ‘Oriental’ might distantly suggest Moorish or Moroccan influence but with its gentle chiming of distances it owns a sun-tranced beauty with resignation in its middle section and the outer sections with those chimes softly invoking somewhere deep south: in Andalusia perhaps.
No. 5 with its wonderfully pent-up spring of a climax is even finer. ‘Andaluza’ starts with guitar strumming with the right hand striking out a melody that rides up to that miraculous hesitation releasing the climax. Michelangeli made this incomparable and Kaleb does it justice though doesn’t give it that agogic kick and release.
It was with the rest of the recital that Kateb really hit her stride.
The Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-83) born the year Granados died, is famous for his early ballet Estancia from 1941. Ginastera was so much more though, evolving through an individual approach twelve-tone music and ultimately his own accommodation to modernism. He remained grounded in both Hispanic and native folk idioms and imagined the music of peoples predating the conquests.
His very early ‘Danza de la Maza Donosa’ Op 2/ 2 (basically Dance of the Beautiful Girl) was written about 1938, where just a tang of Ginastera’s future palate blossoms through. Made famous by Argerich and Barenboim, it’s a romantic crescendo starting of quietly and becoming a lilting torch song at its climax, gradually shading back to a quiet luminescence, and a sudden false discord at the end. This is Kateb territory.
Frederico Mompou, dying as late as 1987 aged 94, is famed for minimal simplicity: his 15 Canciones written between 1918-72 are fragile evocations, his Danzas here are amiably assertive, folk-inflected, above all joyful. A kind of folk prelude and fugue. Kateb gets to the bright soul of these and she’s played several twice at St Nicholas before. Here No. 4, with its moderato folky lyricism, and sudden leap into joy indicated vif is an arresting and tumbling thing, not what you’d expect in Mompou, nor the ostinato hurdy-gurdy effect over half-ay through. No. 5’s ‘Lento Liturgico – Ritmado’ and the slow peal perhaps of bells, chiming in the heat-haze. The greater clarity of the middle section suggests something else: a sheerly joyous, swifter melody burning gauze off fog.
Two famous Mendelssohn Songs Without Words next: the F sharp-minor Op 30/6 plangent and powerful, and ‘Venetian Gondola Song’ the A minor Op 62/5. Kateb keenly delineates Mendelssohn’s classic line, shading them too, in her subtlest performances.
Chopin’s 57 Mazurkas really need to get out more; three here are welcome. Incredibly tricky, rhythmically unstable folk-dances with the second and third accents pushing back, they’re fiendish. They’re also where Chopin carried out some of his most radical experiments. Having played seven before, Kateb plays three new ones. She’s mostly idiomatic here, though these still seem a new departure, her brightness casting for shadows.
Two from Op 33, anguished G sharp-minor, inward things; the A flat needing half-lights. Here the Op 67/2 G minor’s often never more than a whisper rising to relatively lively outer sections with an undertow of melancholy asserting itself in the central section.
The bluesy Mazurka in A flat Op 17/4 presages Poulenc in a night club. The lengthening note values might be in the minor but sound laid-back, 20th century with a harmonic twist of adventure particularly apparent in a few other works of this time include the Ballade No. I in G minor Op 23. But this has an insouciance that makes it possibly the most harmonically prophetic of all Chopin; and uncharacteristically relaxed. The G major Op 50/1 Vivace really is that, a joyous send-off after the party’s over.
It’s an original way to end a recital, Kateb’s first here after those two at St Nicholas. Kateb on third hearing is still entrancing. A sensitive, searching and individual debut at Chapel Royal
at Chapel Royal.