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A Testing Programme

BILL NEWMAN listens to
Mayuko Katsumura and Gordon Back


I have heard the distinguished Japanese violinist Mayuko Katsumura before and enjoyed. A pupil of professors Yasuro Sumi in Tokyo, Krzysztof Wegrzyn in Hannover and Yfrah Neaman in London, she is currently studying with Eugene Sarbu. From an early age she has covered herself in glory at music competitions.

The Welsh pianist Gordon Back studied at the Royal Northern College in Manchester. After a period of post-graduate studies in Italy he joined the faculty of London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1974, was made Head of the Department of Accompaniment in 1980 and a Fellow in 1984.

Both artists came together to perform at London's Wigmore Hall on 1 April 2008 in a testing programme where, for some reasons of communication, the programme's first half did not quite equal the high standards of the second.

The Chaconne for violin and piano in G minor by Vitali, beloved of Heifetz, Milstein and Menuhin, began the evening. Its exacting measures and intervals require a commanding presence from executants where nobility and intonation are spot on. Katsumura's slightly tame performance did not do it justice, while Back's rather ordinary accompaniment made his role sound prosaic. Perhaps the piece would have been better as a second half item by swapping it with the Bach Chaconne. Beethoven's masterly Sonata No 7 in his favourite C minor key showed out of tune middle register problems in the violin and some inaccuracies from the pianist. Equality and clarity between both artists is essential and visual cueing of supreme importance. This was lacking on both counts.

The Bach Chaconne shone out like a blazing beacon at the start of Part 2. I presume a string replacement had taken place during the interval, and everything was set for the closing item: Saint-Saëns' Sonata No 1 in D minor. Following some brief discussion, we were underway for some glorious playing, sweetly phrased and brilliantly executed. The long, regular stretches of staccato writing were superbly controlled, even by Heifetz standards, and both players were more relaxed, performing at their normal sensitivity and complete mastery.

Copyright © 7 June 2008 Bill Newman, Edgware UK




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