Cross Border – Joanna MacGregor at CIT Cork School of Music, March 19th 2015
Tonight British pianist Joanna MacGregor begins her tour of Ireland in Cork. This evenings programme at first glance appears quite eclectic with works from Bach to Ives. MacGregor reveals, however, that her programme is a reflection of important musical influences in her life.
Launching into the five preludes and fugues, MacGregor’s style of playing is quite unique. There is a great sense of freedom in the way she moves as she sways and nods with the music and leans in over the keys getting closer as the music grows more intense. Interestingly, her interpretation of the preludes and fugues has a slight jazz infusion. MacGregor receives many rounds of applause after each set of pieces, to which her reaction is rather modest, a delightful onstage characteristic of the performer.
The second half of the concert begins with the premier of a new work by Irish composer Conor Linehan called Roadshow, which was commissioned by MacGregor. Before playing the piece she remarks that not only are the audience the first to hear her play it but they are also hearing her play the work before the composer. The short piece is a wave of sound with elements of classical and jazz combined, well performed and fitting in well with the other pieces in this part of the programme.
This is followed by a collection of pieces that MacGregor has put under the heading ‘Lost Highways and American Journeys‘ in the programme notes. The first of which is Charles Ives’ The Alcotts. MacGregor masterfully brings the movement to life while also capturing the finer details of the music. MacGregor’s interpretation of the traditional spiritual Deep River, initially seems almost unrecognisable from the original song. This is due to the use of tremolos and pedalling effects making it difficult to distinguish the notes. However the main melody can eventually be faintly heard beneath this. While it is an interesting interpretation, the work comes across as a half of a duet, a little as if it’s missing something. This is probably due to the fact that MacGregor originally recorded this piece with British saxophonist Andy Sheppard, and performs it solo tonight.
The final set of pieces are MacGregor’s own arrangements of four tangos by Argentinian composer Piazzolla. It is at this point of the concert that MacGregor truly seems to be enjoying herself. She can be seen tapping her foot, nodding and shaking her head in time to the music. The tempo seems erratic at times speeding up and slowing down rather unexpectedly but the sonorous bass line manages to hold it all together. MacGregor makes use of glissandi and also uses the strings within the piano to create surprisingly dark and penetrating sounds.
Intriguingly MacGregor chooses to play Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina as an encore. This seems a rather strange choice given the music that had preceded it. The deceptively simple piece is sad, reflective and almost child-like in nature. The piece appears to affect MacGregor deeply as she struggles to smile before departing the stage. Overall MacGregor succeeds in making such a diverse programme personal and coherent, while also showing off her technical prowess.
J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C major BWV 846
Dmitri Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue in C major
J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in c minor BWV 847
Dmitri Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue in Eb major
Dmitri Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue in Db major
Frédéric Chopin: Six Mazurkas (Op. 6 No. 1 in f# minor, Op. 17 No. 2 in e minor, Op. 59 No. 2 in Ab major, Op. 30 No. 3 in Db major, Op. 17 No. 4 in a minor and Op. 50 No. 3 in c# minor.)
Conor Linehan: Roadshow
Charles Ives: The Alcotts – 3rd movement from Conchord Sonata
Thelonious Monk: Monk’s Point
Trad.: Deep River
Professor Longhair: Big Chief
Trad.: Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down
Astor Piazzolla: Four Tangos – Tanguedia, Buenos Aires, Hora Cero, Milonga del Angel and Libertango (arr. MacGregor)
Encore: Arvo Pärt – Für Alina