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Spalding,
Lincolnshire, England
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Saturday 4 October 2008

PIANO 4 HANDS

JOSEPH TONG & WAKA HASEGAWA

Programme - Programme Notes

Review of the Concert

Piano 4 Hands has rapidly established a reputation as one of Britain's most exciting young piano duos and were prize winners at the Tokyo International Piano Duo Competition in 2003 and the Schubert International Competition in Czech Republic.

Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa made their Wigmore Hall debut in 2003 for the Kirckman Concert Society and have given several recitals at the Purcell Room on the South Bank to critical acclaim, including the PLG New Year Series and Fresh Young Musician's Platform. They have performed at many of the major concert halls around the country including Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (for the Midday Concerts Society), St David's Hall in Cardiff, Fairfield Halls Croydon, St George's Bristol and the Turner Sims Hall in Southampton.
Last spring the duo gave a Wigmore Hall recital on two pianos, their programme including the London premiere of a newly commissioned work by Nicola LeFanu, as well as a live broadcast on Radio 3's In Tune. Other recent highlights have included concerts at St George's Bristol, The York Spring Festival, Bury St Edmunds Festival and the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Series in Chicago this March which was broadcast live on WFMT Radio. Joe and Waka also perform regularly in Japan, where they gave a highly successful debut recital at Oji Hall in Tokyo in 2005.

Piano 4 Hands has commissioned several new works from composers such as Nicola LaFanu, Dai Fujikura, Robert Keeley and Edwin Roxburgh, whose Homage to Debussy they have recorded for the NMC label. In 2002 they gave the first ever performance of any of Dai Fujikura's music in Japan when they premiered Half -Remembered City in Tokyo, whilst they will be co-commissioning a set of pieces for two pianos from the same composer in 2007/08.

The duo recently recorded their debut CD of piano duets by Debussy which was released on the
Quartz label last autumn.

Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa gratefully acknowledge financial support from the PRS Foundation for New Music.

Programme

Mozart - Sonata in C major KV521
Schubert - Variations on an Original Theme in A Flat D813
Edwin Roxburgh - Reflets dans la glace (2002)
(interval)
Ravel - Rapsodie Espagnole
Poulenc - Sonata for Piano Duet
Debussy - La Mer

 

PROGRAMME NOTES

SONATA in C major KV 521 MOZART (1756-1791)
Allegro
Andante
Allegretto

1787 was a year when some of Mozart's most important and mature works were composed. He was living in Vienna where he had been working on his opera Don Giovanni. The opera was first performed in Prague in October, but had to wait until the following year for a production in Vienna. In the same year, he composed two of his most beautiful string quintets and also this joyous piano sonata for four hands, K.521.

Though Mozart had written many pieces to perform with his sister, this C major sonata was possibly initially intended for a talented young pupil for whom he had previously composed the piano part in an earlier work - an Eb major Trio for clarinet, viola and piano K.498. However, the ultimate dedicatees were two sisters - daughters of a wealthy Viennese merchant.

The three movements of this Sonata sparkle with spirit and humour. After a supremely confident Allegro, the beautiful Andante movement contains a more agile middle section in a minor key. The final Allegretto is a delightful Rondo, where versions of the simple theme return frequently in a movement that is full of charm and instant appeal.


VARIATIONS on an original theme in Ab D.813 SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Variation 1
Variation 11
Variation 111 (Un poco più lento)
Variation 1V (Tempo 1)
Variation V
Variation V1 (Maestoso)
Variation V11 (Più lento)
Variation V111 (Allegro moderato)

When Schubert wrote these variations in 1824, he had only recently recovered from illness that had confined him to hospital in Vienna the previous year. But poor health did little to still his creative powers. In this year he composed the String Quartet in A minor, the popular Octet for stings and wind instruments, the first part of his famous song cycle 'Die Schone Mullerin' and a challenging but delightful set of variations for flute and piano on the theme Trockne Blumen from the Mullerin cycle.

However, all was not well. Schubert had left Vienna to take up a teaching post with the Esterhézy family in the Hungarian village of Zseliz where he was desperately lonely. He wrote to friends: "I am without a single person with whom I can speak a sensible word." But later in the year he was more upbeat: "By September I shall see you all again with a Grand Sonata and a set of Variations in Ab which are having great success here".

Of these beautifully crafted pieces, a friend wrote in the following year: "In the eight Variations, each is independently and vitally developed, and yet each seems to reveal the theme."


REFLETS DANS LA GLACE EDWIN ROXBURGH (b.1937)

Born in Liverpool, Edwin Roxburgh studied composition with Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music, and later travelled to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. Also an exceptional oboist, he was section principal for a time, with the Sadlers Wells orchestra, and established himself as a virtuoso interpreter of contemporary pieces for the instrument. As a composer, Roxburgh has written numerous works in nearly every genre including TV and films. His large piano repertoire includes music for young beginners through to virtuoso pieces for professional concert performance.

Reflets dance la Glace was composed in 2002 as a three movement work - one in which Roxburgh pays a personal tribute to Debussy whilst avoiding any direct imitation. Tonight we are to hear just the last movement which carries the same title.

The composer has written the following introduction to his music:

Reflets dans la Glace is designed as a tribute to one of the finest composers for the piano. While figurations related to Debussy's music are referred to, the harmonic and rhythmic aspects are transformed into a different musical language. In seeking to create a sound world that is unrelated to that of a single pianist, I have pursued textual characteristics suggested by the title of each of the pieces, and their obvious reference to Debussy. The resonances and rhythmic cross-currents involved are possible only with two performers especially when the whole keyboard is deployed at times either for reverberation or for complex counterpoint. Reflets dance la Glace transfers Debussy's "L'eau" to the reflected light and movement on the surface of ice, exploring sonorities distinctive to the piano duo medium.


RAPSODIE ESPAGNOLE RAVEL (1875-1937)
Prélude à la nuit (Modéré)
Malaguena (Assez vif)
Habanera (En demi-tente et d'un rythme las)
Feria (Assez vif)

The Rapsodie Espagnole, so well known in its orchestral version, was first composed for two piano 4-hands during the summer of 1907. Ravel transcribed it for orchestra the following year. Born of a Basque mother and brought up only a short distance from the Spanish border, Ravel was much influenced by the culture and heritage of that country - an influence immediately evident in later works such as Boléro and the opera L'heure espagnole.
The exotic sounds in the first Prélude set the scene of a warm and sultry evening. Echoes of an impassioned love song can be heard. Some exciting final cadenzas lead us onto the Malaguena, a fast short dance in waltz time. The following Habanera, a Cuban dance - literally 'a dance from Havana', is imaginative and atmospheric - with repetitive cross-rhythms in the second piano part. The final Feria - literally 'the fair', is full of descriptive excitement, panache and colour.


SONATA FOR PIANO DUET POULENC (1899-1963)
Prélude
Rustique
Final

Poulenc's short Sonata for four hands (its three movements last just six minutes) was written when the composer was only nineteen years old, and in comparison with the much more substantial Sonata for Two Pianos composed over thirty years later, the earlier work bears very few of the harmonic or melodic characteristics so instantly recognisable in his mature music. However, the Sonata is fun, none the less. The first movement, Prélude, opens percussively and develops some exciting rhythmic passages with tremendous energy. The slow movement, Rustique, has an almost innocent simplicity about it with a charming child-like lyricism, and the Final is fresh and spontaneous. The conductor Ernest Ansermet delighted in the young composer's work describing it as "some of the most alive music that France has recently produced." This is well said, for in spite of Poulenc's love of spicy dissonances and polytonality, his music speaks directly to the listener with a continuous alternating emotion of excitement and tranquillity.


LA MER (Three symphonic sketches) DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
De l'aube à midi sur la mer (From dawn to noon on the sea)
Jeux de vagues (Play of the waves)
Dialogue du vent et de la mer (Dialogue between the wind and the sea)

Sadly, in 1904, the year before he composed La Mer, Debussy left his wife and settled with his mistress in the English Sussex resort of Eastborne. Here he completed this work, first as a piano piece for four hands and then, a few months later, in an orchestral version. It is said that Debussy owned and loved a coloured engraving representing a huge wave which may have been one inspiration for this evocative work.

Listening to the piano version of this great work, devoid of its well known orchestral colours, we can use our own imagination and perhaps appreciate even more the clever interplay of themes and ideas in Debussy's music. On the subject of source material, he wrote in a letter to his friend André Messager, "I have a great passion for the sea….What I am doing might be like painting a great landscape."

In the slow introduction to the first movement, we can imagine the sunrise. Then the music gradually builds in complexity until, at the evocation of 'noon', we hear a glorious restatement of the sunrise theme.

Jeux de vagues is a scherzo, featuring many dance-like passages with trills and playful motifs throughout. In the final bars, after an animated waltz-like passage, the movement ends calmly as we imagine the wind over the sea gradually subsiding.

The final movement (the longest of the three) opens with a representation of a threatening storm. Two musical ideas from the first movement are recalled. The continuous building and subsiding of the wind over the waves is wonderfully evoked by Debussy throughout this whole movement. A dramatic rush of the tide, illustrated with a whirlwind cascade of pianistic notes, brings this remarkable piece of musical imagery to a glorious end.

Review of the Concert

Piano4Hands - South Holland Centre - Presented by South Holland Concerts Spalding

Saturday 4 October 2008 - South Holland Centre Spalding

If one can enjoy the pleasant shiver of an artistic moment, as experienced at a recent concert performed by the piano duo, of Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa, then surely that artistic moment takes us to another world. Rarely will you hear duet playing so beautifully integrated with subtle articulation and balance. South Holland Concerts opening concert of the season provided such sweet harmony in a wide ranging programme that transported the audience , away from the harsh realities of world monetarism and everyday concerns .

The dazzling pianism displayed in a wide ranging programme from Mozart to Debussy revealed the technical mastery of two fine artists. In Mozart's Sonata for piano, in C major (K.521), his final essay in a form he had made his own, Joseph Tong & Waka Hasegawa performed with flawless ensemble and infectious panache.

Schubert's haunting Variations on an original theme in A flat (D.813) provided the perfect blend and balance of the four hands supported by subtle pedalling.

As a prelude to the remaining French programme, Edwin Roxburgh's delightful 'Reflets dans la glace' pursued textual characteristics with reference to Debussy - the resonances and rhythmic cross currents were beautifully revealed by the two performers - producing the reflected light and movement on the surface of ice.

The second half of the concert was devoted to the French schools, Ravel, Poulenc and Debussy. Opening with Ravel's 'Rapsodie Espagnole - which owed much to Ravel's Basque roots, although of only 3 months duration, before moving to Paris. The Iberian atmosphere was personified by the two performers, whether limpidly languishing in the heat, or the teasing rhythms of the farandole, the lush sultry colouring , to the whirling moment of the Feria.

A short piece by Poulenc, his Sonata for Piano duet - provided fun , excitement and tranquillity in equal part, prior to Debussy's 'La Mer' - this great work so well known in its orchestral version, provided a challenge for one piano. But the artistes responded magnificently, their colouring being deployed in almost orchestral terms, meticulous in detail vibrant and full of colour.

Absolutely breathtaking, with the near capacity audience responding with rapturous applause to this highly talented duo.

Michael Callaghan

 
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