In The King’s Favour, Noriko Amano presented a programme of richly decorative 17th and 18th century harpsichord music. The first half of the programme was comprised of the French composers who enjoyed “the King’s Favour”: the royal permission of Louis XIV to print and publish their compositions. The second half of the programme was J.S. Bach’s extended dance suite Partita no. 4 in D major, which has many French features, and consequently was an apt and interesting musical response to the earlier French pieces.
The most musically exciting part of the concert was a selection of works by Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729), one of the finest composers in the programme. Her pieces opened with a Tocade, a flamboyant piece with luscious use of low bass notes and daring dissonances, which Amano lingered over affectionately. La Flamande, an allemande, was stately and elegiac with a startlingly descending bass. The Gigue that followed this was great fun, spikily charistmatic and bouncy.
Works by Chambonnières (1601-72) and Lebègue (1631-1702) were played with doubles, composed by Louis Couperin. The double is a French fashion of playing a piece - or the verse of a song - a second time with elaborate improvised or pre-composed ornamentation and, as here, composers sometimes chose to write doubles to pieces by other composers. Amano showed her skill here in Couperin's sprightly and demanding pieces. Another enjoyable moment was the encore, a short and sweet piece by Louis Couperin, which Amano played with joyous energy. The heart of the programme was the Prélude non-mesuré (a piece played in very free time) and Tombeau de M. de Chambonnières by Jean-Henri d'Anglebert (1629-91).
Amano returned to the stage with a beautiful white kimono embroidered in reds and pinks over her white gown, and announced that dancer and choreographer Shusaku Takeuchi would perform a dance during the Tombeau. This part of the programme was designed as a Requiem for Fukushima: both Amano and Takeuchi are involved in outreach work with the orphans of the tsunami and nuclear disasters that have affected Fukushima, and Takeuchi has performed his Butterfly Dance in many countries, giving workshops on it to children affected by the disasters. This really was the heart of the whole concert, proceeds of which went to the Itten Cooking Studio, which supports children in Fukushima.
Takeuchi entered in a white gown similar to Amano’s concert gown, with face made up entirely in white and wearing a white butterfly headdress. He adopted a pose with skirts spread out and performed a dance that contained features of representative mime, extreme facial expressions and slow sweeping gestures juxtaposed with quick movements of the hands. Takeuchi is known as a choreographer of contemporary dance, and has worked in the Netherlands since 1973, but it seemed obvious that a traditional form of Japanese dance or theatre was being represented. I wished very much for more information about this in the programme, as very little detail about the kind of dance or its history and associated symbolism was provided. I didn’t honestly feel that this dance worked well with the music, although Amano gave her most thoughtful playing of the concert in the Prélude and Tombeau, which were moving and performed with commitment. I had the impression that this dance was not choreographed for this music, but was put together with it in an imaginative but not entirely successful fusion for the purpose of this concert.
I wanted very much to enjoy this concert: it had a fine choice of repertoire, imaginative interdisciplinary collaboration and obvious heart. Unfortunately it didn't quite hold together. Despite the apparent coherence of the idea on paper, the concert had a rough and ready feeling about it, and a sense of insecurity coming from the stage. Amano often started pieces strongly, then appeared to run into difficulties in the middle, which interfered with the flow of the piece. It is not a problem when a soloist plays from the score, but in some cases I actually had the feeling she didn’t know the repertoire securely enough for the stage and was really having to read the music. This need for care also sometimes led to her adopting a too solid approach to some pieces: the Bach especially would have benefited from more flexibility, although it had some graceful moments. I found this a great pity, as when playing strongly, she showed strong, graceful technique, clear rhythmic drive, elegant, nimble ornamentation and an obvious affection for the style. This concert was therefore a very mixed experience, a brave and creative venture, which unfortunately just didn't quite work.
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