FringeReview UK 2018
Yoko Ono plays Mozart’s earlylish E flat Piano Sonata K282, two of Grieg’s later Lyric Pieces Op 65, eight of Debussy’s Preludes from Book I and Chopin’s Minute Waltz as encore.
Though Yoko Ono’s been a fixture at Chapel Royal since (I think) the concert series’ beginning she plays like the rising star she is. She marries a crisp pianistic poise with a tonal amplitude that makes her Debussy so memorable. In the Grieg to she deploys both.
Yoko Ono started with Mozart’s earlylish E flat Piano Sonata No. 4 K282, one Sviatislav Richter made his own like several from this time. It dates from when Mozart was around twenty-one, in 1777. Ono’s delivery is unhurried, gently easing into this filigree early Mozart with lines and harmonic weight which never drowns the delicacy and poise of the argument. The opening Adagio is unusual, setting up a gradual accelerando in the whole. It’s exploratory with an unfolding that hints at a profundity Mozart was to attain in later adagios for this instrument.
The two menuets are a shade different from each other, and their crisp poise brings out Ono’s most classical vein, the bubblier second particularly. The finale’s memorable with its two chords leaping with a flurrying response. An aromatic dispatch of a lesser-known pianistic jewel.
Two of Grieg’s later Lyric Pieces Op 65 followed, th first passionate and layered, with tis memorable refrain, though The Wedding at Trondheim seems like a symphonic poem here, with a range far beyond the famous and joyous memory of a wedding twenty-five years earlier. Its runs, rallies, lyrical eddies all suggest a complete narrative faintly occluded from us. Ono brought out again the sharp sweetness of Grieg, nervously dismissed by Debussy as creating ‘pink bon-bons wrapped in snow’ yet who palpably learned from him as Ono proved in her next choice. Ono’s rich palate – the piano responded – gave these the sculpting it’s so easy to miss.
The core of the programme was eight of Debussy’s Preludes from Book I Dances of Delphi ‘lent et grave’ evokes a world not far removed from Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies of nearly twenty years earlier. Ono’s unhurried, more than some taking the ‘lent et grave’ seriously, though Debussy’s warmth here belies ‘grave’. It’s the first in the set. Ono jumps past the enxt three then plays the rest in order with the exception fo the famous tenth, The Drowned Cathedral. That’s a massive tone poem sensibly removed if you’re playing two thirds of a set.
The Hills of Anacapri (originally fifth in the set) is also relatively quiet, ‘Très modéré’ allows Ono to sweep quietly through a tonal variety of relatively pastel shades.
Thee palpably darken in the minor-keyed intensely melancholic Footsteps in the Snow (the sixth) – all the sadder for being marched slowly to some perhaps cheerless destination. There’s weight in this performance, a leaden iciness wholly in keeping as performed here.
Next a contrast with the second ad more turbulent of the ‘wind’ pieces, What the West Wind Has Seen (seventh) ‘Animé et tumultueux’ allowing Ono to terrace back and forth like wind visible on a landscape with strong bass notes and a clangorous trill somehow harmonizing with those depths. Everything’s shaken as the palate brightens and we climb the keyboard.
Here Ono again follow the original order again, with thw balm of the most famous, The Girl with the Flaxen Hair (originally eighth) with its slow pulse visited by small rallies and climax.
Ono then essays the jumpy self-interrupting Interrupted Serenade: ‘Modérément animé’ (ninth in the set) which allows the greatest variety of tonal contrast, the Spanish rhythms, mainly flamenco, with a querulous lyricism, full of stops and starts needing Ono’s sharp but light attacking palate.
Puck‘s Dance ‘Capricieux et léger’ (eleventh) marks a return to the Serenade, with tiny outbursts riffed with petulant forays. There’s more self-interrupted glee, and tempo-changes as capricious as Puck himself.
Finally Minstrels: ‘Modéré’ (twelfth and last) is a glimpse into ragtime and proto-jazz inflections. It’s lighter, syncopated, a cheerful rounding to a world not always as poised and classically satisfied with itself as the first and a few other preludes pretend; on the surface that is.
There’s the sense of winding up a performance as a few accelerandos from bass-slow to trilling top suggest, but its not a toy box, it suggest human agency captured by Debussy. Ono relishes the give and take of these shifts and the glinting smiling dismissal at the end of the entire set.
Chopin’s Minute Waltz as encore was like a release spinning the evoked world back into the piano, beautifully controlled and of course throwaway. Another iridescent recital by an artist far too easy to take for granted.