Joanna MacGregor

J S Bach: Six French Suites for Piano
Cornerstone Festival at the The Capstone Theatre
24th November 2013

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Finger Dressage

On a dark and dreary Sunday afternoon a ray of sunshine descended on The Capstone in the form of Joanna MacGregor. Inside, the accommodating warmth and sense of occasion were much more welcoming than the seeping cold outside, but all was not perfect.

A slight technical hitch delayed the start before the doors to the auditorium opened to show a bare stage with just a piano at its centre. Onto the platform then strode Hope University's own Professor of Performance, dazzlingly sporting a lurex dress and loose-fitting jacket, her trousers tucked into her knee length leather boots - everything was in black except for her stunning beehive of a hairdo, echoing the russet colours of the Autumn leaves outside.

A short explanation was in order as to why the programme had been changed from the advertised Goldberg Variations. She had badly damaged her hand in a glass related accident and had been recovering whilst touring with some itinerant jazz musicians. Today was to be the first test of the classical canon for some time. Then, after imperiously asking for the air conditioning unit behind her to be silenced, she was off.

If Bach's French Piano Suites are less arduous to play it did not show. Of the six the first three are in the minor keys and the latter in the majors. Each consists of a series of miniatures evoking dances of the period - in order starting with an Allemande, Courante and Sarabande and finishing with a Gigue. Bach composed all the pieces during 1722 to 1725. In between the Sarabande and the Gigue he included further 'gallantries', (also dance-based), for variation, innovation and effect.

Playing with fabulous style and joie de vivre, the mesmerising combinations of sound brought out the qualities in the music, perhaps more reserved before the interval, but with a warmth and wit afterwards. Her hands in the keyboard mirror reflected her efforts to capture the timbre and tempo required of each piece as she effortlessly lolloped along, at times moving her head or mouthing sentiments to the notes cascading from the Steinway - the artist and instrument complementing each other in sight as well as sound.

As Paul Tortelier famously said of Bach's Suites for Cello, 'This is music that dances and sings'; and so it was here. By reaching beneath the written score and into the depths of the work as a whole, a different picture emerged; like when relaxing before the pages in those 'magic' books of childhood, which reveal their 'hidden' images.

All too soon it was over. Joanna MacGregor was warmly applauded and presented with a bouquet of flowers at the end of the recital. She will shortly be off to Leipzig to perform in a Britten Centenary concert. How prescient then to have her 1993 cd of today's work recorded at Snape Maltings on sale, as a permanent reminder, of today's pyrotechnics and of the world class performer herself.

Printer friendly page

Sorry Comments Closed