FringeReview UK 2018
Gemma Kateb plays Ginastera, Mompou, with a selection of Granados and particularly Chopin.
London-based Gemma Kateb’s a returning new name, known for chamber, accompaniment and increasingly as soloist. She debuted here in April.
In an individual programme – again Spanish 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 the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-83) 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.
As is Enrique Granados (1868-1916) dying the year Ginastera was born 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. 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.
Frederico Mompou, dying as late as 1987 aged 94, is famed for minimal simplicity: his Canciones are fragile evocations, his Danzas here are amiably assertive, folk-inflected, above all joyful. Kateb gets to the bright soul of these and she’s played 1, 4, 6 and 8 before. Here it’s just 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.
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.
The Op 50/1 in G is bright and unclouded with the mazurka rhythm unclouded and just a faintly evocative still sunny middle section. Kateb decides on the asme key’s minor next the briefer g minor Op 67/2 posthumously published. It’s a remarkable piece with a dragging refrain which Kateb pulls infinite regret from. The Op 59/2 in A flat is another winner, showing more expansive territory, an almost childish sunny optimism with even the quieter middle section glowing in shafts of minor leading warmly back.
Two Nocturnes concluded. The Op 15/2 in f sharp’s famous. It’s near to John Field, the Nocturne’s inventor, with an ambling rather cosy winding tune that’s suddenly riffled with a ripply glissandi that gives the sharp its flavour and raison-d’etre.
The very next Nocturne Op 15/3 is curiously less known. again it’s in G minor with some very original features, some sideslips that sound straight out of Satie’s Gnossiennes – just as the bluesy Mazurka in A flat Op 17/4 presages Poulenc in a night club. Here the G minor’s often never more than a whisper. It’s an original way to end a recital, Kateb’s second here. Entrancing. It’d be good to see such a sensitive, searching musician back.