Japan-born British clarinettist Anna Hashimoto compiled a wide-ranging programme for her ‘Roots’ recital at St John’s Smith Square. Performing works from Britain and Japan as a soloist, accompanied by pianist Daniel King Smith and as part of the Atéa Wind Quintet, this was one of Hashimoto’s two recitals at the venue as part of its young artists’ scheme, which offers mentoring, performance opportunities and support to musicians early in their careers.

© Anne Hashimoto
© Anne Hashimoto

Hashimoto is clearly a brilliant technician, with laser-accurate articulation and immaculate passagework, but needs to develop her own musical voice. Where her playing was consistent and her musicality was evident, she often felt overly cautious in her interpretation. The assurance that more experienced players, such as Michael Collins, exhibit was absent: this is something which will come with time, as Hashimoto lives with the music and develops her own vision.

Commissioned through the SJSS Young Artists’ Scheme, Richard Bullen’s Hanamichi/Hikinuki for clarinet, CD and building was inspired by Japanese Kabuki theatre. The first movement was inspired by the way actors perform amongst the audience, and the second by the quick costume changes (hikinuki) in which the actor’s black garb is removed to reveal a brightly coloured layer of clothing. The work was clearly created with the resonant acoustic of the venue in mind: the first sounds were recordings of Hashimoto blowing through the separated parts of the clarinet, the resulting noises alternately resembling crashing waves, soft cymbals or the whistling wind. The clarinet gradually intruded into this evocative sound-world, exploring sets of notes in bird-like arabesque figuration while processing around the church.

While the first movement was more effective on a theatrical level than a musical one, the second was better suited to displaying Hashimoto’s capabilities. A relentless stream of juxtapositions and character changes, it was ideal to demonstrate her control of the instrument, with flutter-tonguing, intricate passagework and figuration crossing the instrument’s range. Hashimoto performed with a secure upper range and a colourful array of timbre colours – one passage for the instrument’s chalumeau register resembled a bass clarinet – even if her piano tended to be somewhat breathy.

Hashimoto herself had commissioned Rikuya Terashima’s Voyage of a Star. A soliloquy in which melodic expression was privileged, the piece was romantic in its gestures and harmonic language. Hashimoto’s playing may have been beautiful and controlled, but seemed reluctant to take risks; the nostalgic nature of the music may not have helped, but the performance seemed rather safe.

The clarinettist was joined by the four other members of the Athéa Wind Quintet for Birtwistle’s Five Distances. The ensemble didn’t seem to fully commit to the relentless searching lines, sounding overly cautious. While the acoustic wasn’t ideal – the piece would work better in a drier setting – the tension and spirit were lacking. The quintet also performed an arrangement of Okano’s Furusato, a children’s song which describes returning to one’s roots, bringing off the short, nostalgic piece with neat phrasing and sustained lines.

The final two works on the programme were more traditional recital fare for clarinet and piano. John Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata is a staple for any clarinettist, and Hashimoto appeared much more comfortable. While her interpretation was still slightly tentative, King Smith perhaps didn’t help – his accompaniment was rather perfunctory, and lacked the malleability which is inherent to the fantasy genre. Joseph Horovitz’s Sonatina reconciled classy phrasing and refined melodic shaping with a bolder character. Hashimoto let loose in the throwaway last movement, bringing her programme to an end with a bang.

At the moment, Hashimoto is a strong clarinettist, but she needs to have the confidence to present her ideas in performance. By trusting her musical instincts, I’m sure she will be able to take the next step in the professional world.