Concert Review: Stevens, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky – Awadagin Pratt, Yasuo Shinozaki

Reviewed by Andrew Wilding

Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 4 June 2015

 

Laura Stevens Long Walk première, Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1, Tchaikovsky Symphony No.4, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Awadagin Pratt, Yasuo Shinozaki

Laura Stevens Long Walk première, Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1, Tchaikovsky Symphony No.4, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Awadagin Pratt, Yasuo Shinozaki

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Laura Stevens, Long Walk (world première) – CTPO, Yasuo Shinozaki
It is wonderful to be reminded that the composing of beautiful classical music has not been resigned to a dusty museum, or forced into the bland concrete canal of film scoring. In my understanding, Laura Stevens deserves a place in the sky as a new star. I found her work immediately engaging, intelligently formed, well developed, and delightful on the ears. “Long Walk” (yes, Mandela’s) is a stunning tone poem in the late romantic / impressionist style, with vibrant splashes of colour, rich mixes of tonalities, warm bronzy brass, and ethereal atmospheric strings. I was pleased to read in the program notes that the Holstian quotation is an intentional reference to Jupiter as a metaphor for Madiba. In the composers’ words: “…a hint of greatness; an astronomical giant foreshadowing a giant among men.” I look forward to hearing this work again, hopefully in the near future. It is definitely well worth getting to know.

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Awadagin Pratt and Yasuo Shinozaki with the CTPO after Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1

Awadagin Pratt and Yasuo Shinozaki with the CTPO after Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1

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Beethoven, Piano Concerto No.1 – Awadagin Pratt, CTPO, Yasuo Shinozaki
Purely musically, one should perhaps not be influenced by stage presence, but how can one not? Awadagin Pratt has the X-factor of a master performer, comfortably preparing during Beethoven’s rather long orchestral introduction by silently practising a little bit, lightly running his fingers over the keys so as not to make them sound, and seeming to use the time to rehearse mentally before his entry. The emotional state of the performer on stage can often be felt by the audience, and as an audience member I found it relaxing that he was okay with us being in the same room, and just listening to him play.

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His entry felt surprisingly modest – delivered with a soft, buoyant, clearly audible touch that presently revealed astonishing dynamics and sensitivity. His running passages were as loud as they needed to be for us to hear them. With merely the occasional rumble of thunder from his left hand, it was only in the coda of the exposition that we saw a hint of the hidden power in those fingers. This is a brilliant way to hold the audience’s attention – building our anticipation to hear his full sound. Pratt’s award-winning playing and comfort in his sound was noticeable not only in his balance with the orchestra but also in his dynamics between hands. He skilfully lifts themes out of both low and high registers of the piano, against a background of rippling arpeggios or ostinatos sustained by the other fingers – a favourite technique of Beethoven’s. His second movement was sublime. I enjoyed his innovative fingering, at one point effortlessly replacing an ascending C major scale with an artfully controlled glissando that landed perfectly on it’s destination note.

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Listening to Awadagin Pratt, one is in the presence of a classical magician. His narrative and sensitivity is spellbinding – his fingers hardly seem to move. His tempo is fearless. Pratt has recently recorded the Brahms sonatas for piano and cello with Zuill Bailey, who performed the Dvorak concerto last year at the City Hall.

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Tchaikovsky, Symphony No.4 – CTPO, Yasuo Shinozaki
From the moment that Tchaikovsky’s bombastic brass introduction blasted into the audience’s pre-symphony murmur, Shinozaki boldly proved to be an exciting conductor, full of surprises, and one who is not afraid of a riveting tempo! His communication with the orchestra seems clear, enabling succinct entries and excellent balance. Winner of the Second International Sibelius Conducting Competition in 2000, Shinozaki leads a number of orchestras and has a prolific recording career. It was another world class performance from the CTPO, with outstanding solos from Simon Ball bassoon, Oscar Kitten clarinet, and Sergei Burdukov oboe, and well done strings for the immaculate pizzicato in the third movement!

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Next week Shinozaki returns to the CTPO podium:
Dvorak Hussite Overture
Tchaikovsky Pezzo Capriccioso (Anzel Gerber, cello)
Saint-Saens Africa (Ben Schoeman, piano)
Grove Bushman Prayers (Ben Schoeman, piano, and Anzel Gerber, cello)
Sibelius Symphony No.1

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2 thoughts on “Concert Review: Stevens, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky – Awadagin Pratt, Yasuo Shinozaki

  1. Awadagin Pratt was not “practising a little bit” or “rehearsing mentally before his entry” but rather playing in the Tutti sections as recent scholarship (early 2000s) reveals Beethoven and earlier soloists would have done too.
    Really. He chatted to me about it after the concert.

    See: http://gradworks.umi.com/33/18/3318012.html
    – Or ask your brother.
    Regards

    Like

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