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Ensemble

Force of Nature

The Matsumoto/Jacobson Duo
and The Art of Falconry,
by MALCOLM TROUP

 

Now that stagflation has curbed the former mad stampede of shoppers to the July sales on Oxford Street, what is there left for Londoners to do on a muggy summer's afternoon? Why, the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe's 2008 Summer Festival at Regent Hall (275 Oxford Street, W1) of course -- an ideal evolutionary stopping-off point midway between man's animal past as represented by the Regents Park Zoo and the cultural heights of the South Bank, where surprises of both kind await you. At any rate, lateral thinkers like Barry Green ('The Inner Game of Music') and Eugene Herrigel ('Zen and the Art of Archery') would have been in their element there on Tuesday 29 July 2008 to witness the revival of yet another lost art -- that of falconry set to music -- as the second event of the BPSE 2008 Summer Festival, now in its tenth year.

Not only did falconmaster Julian Jacobson have his trusty piano attached as always to his unerring wrists but this time there was perched there as well a rare avian species from faraway Japan, capable of being despatched by him at a moment's notice in pursuit of whatever musical booty met their joint fancy. Whether the combustive struggles of Beethoven's bid, in his Opus 30 No 2, towards a new post-Heiligenstadt style, or Debussy's long-breathed melody at the start of his posthumous Violin Sonata -- all were seized on and born triumphantly aloft so as the better for us to marvel at this force of nature which only Jacobson had known how to tame and direct.

Yuka Matsumoto at Regent Hall. Photo © 2008 Jennifer Gilmour
Yuka Matsumoto at Regent Hall. Photo © 2008 Jennifer Gilmour

Not that Yuka Matsumoto -- to give a name to this phenomenon -- had not already been recognised from her previous maiden flights at the Royal College of Music which had earned her the proud title of 'RCM String Player of the Year' (in addition to a wealth of other attributes and accolades from near and far); only that never before had this powerful predator of the musical firmament been trained so consummately as now to deploy and glory in her powers of instant arousal, relentless pursuit, speed at the kill and victory flight by her pastmaster-trainer Jacobson. At each turn of phrase she seemed at the same time to trigger and empower our own musical responses so that as listeners we became fellow-travellers in these giddy trajectories -- with Matsumoto flying high, while Jacobson reconnoitred the terrain and filled in any missing detailwork before the grateful pricked-up ears of the public -- a threefold arousal rate which knew no exponential bounds in the excitement and heat of the chase. Perhaps we might compare it to those children's games where one has to fill up the dots so as to reveal the underlying image -- Julian's art of placing the dots (of the notation) in the optimal order empowered Yuka's masterly line-drawing to complete the picture.

Yuka Matsumoto at Regent Hall. Photo © 2008 Jennifer Gilmour
Yuka Matsumoto at Regent Hall. Photo © 2008 Jennifer Gilmour

Her unfailingly sumptuous and ever-targeted tone, reminding us of the original close connection between the musical bow and hunting, provided a faithful overview of all the ground covered -- as unflagging in her response to the peremptory outbursts of the Beethoven as to the rapidly shifting colours and moods of Debussy's new stream-of-consciousness technique poured into the old bottle of 'sonata form' -- showing what could be done towards dynamising the incoming 'neo-classicism' by impregnating it with cyclic forms and giving the lie to Lockspeiser's old slur regarding this Sonata as being but 'an illuminating failure'. In the Debussy in particular, Julian's fastidious felinity of alternately purring and pouncing had found its perfect vehicle and managed to infect Yuka with his deep-seated Francophilia. Make no mistake, this was a musical marriage made in heaven, of which the sometimes extreme speeds of their nuptial flights, particularly in the Beethoven, were par for courses and surely make it and the Debussy which followed No 1 contenders for one of RMC's new record releases! Not that Jacobson had not helped us to scale and survey that same heaven innumerable times in the course of his solo Wigmore Hall recitals but now he came in glory with his own pet paraclete, the same dove which once whispered neumes into the ear of St Gregory having now grown to falcon's estate -- his Ariel-aka-Yuka -- as a further guarantor to their flightworthiness.

Julian Jacobson at Regent Hall. Photo © 2008 Jennifer Gilmour
Julian Jacobson at Regent Hall. Photo © 2008 Jennifer Gilmour

At the end, running the gamut from the sublime to the sublimely absurd and more like a cockfight than a flight of eagles, our two Olympian protagonists came back to earth to relax in Jacobson's inimitable Orang-u-Tango, latest of a group of dances -- waltzes, tangos and the like -- dashed off by Julian in the form of what used to be called Albumblätter for a few privileged friends and colleagues. Perfectly in accord with what Debussy's Sonata and the end of World War I hostilities ushered in, in the shape of cabaret, circuses and thé dansants, there was no need for Jacobson, dry humourist to the last, to apologise for having left at home his 'Planet of the Apes' outfit thus depriving the audience of the idea of what was at stake here -- the call of the Zoo! All cheerfully volunteered to follow them into this musical menagerie -- even the winged Matsumoto, to whom the piece is dedicated -- there to revel in the friendly tussle of a tango well-worthy of Piazzolla at his best and round off the recital on a super-simian roll!

Yuka Matsumoto and Julian Jacobson at Regent Hall. Photo © 2008 Jennifer Gilmour
Yuka Matsumoto and Julian Jacobson at Regent Hall. Photo © 2008 Jennifer Gilmour

Your reviewer left marvelling at what miracles one is likely to encounter on Oxford Street in the middle of a free walk-in lunch hour treat of the BPSE Summer Festival where the bringing to light of amazing young talents is now happening on an almost daily basis. Having already got off to a flying start on 25 July 2008 with Daniel Grimwood's heaven-storming account of Liszt's Dante-Sonata, followed by our present masterclass in musical aerodynamics, we were all agog for the coming of Evelyne Berezovsky, of the proud House of Boris Berezovsky, on 31 July -- and so the dizzy pace continues ...

Copyright © 10 August 2008 Malcolm Troup, London UK

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BEETHOVEN PIANO SOCIETY OF EUROPE

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