Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Shared Recital to Herald “The Interludes” for 2019-2020

Nadia Azzi and Andrew Harrison.


Nadia Azzi, Andrew Harrison, Jason Lo: “The Interludes”, First Lutheran Church, Torrance
David J Brown

To open her half of this first shared recital of Classical Crossroads Inc.'s Saturday afternoon series, the young Japanese-Lebanese pianist Nadia Azzi played one of Haydn’s shortest piano sonatas, the two-movement Sonata in B-flat major Hob. XVI:41No. 55 in H. C. Robbins Landon’s listing. It was a cleanly articulated but slightly soft-centered account, and her moderate take on the basic Allegro marking, her rhythmic elasticity, and her tendency to downplay Haydn’s many sforzandi and abrupt juxtapositions of forte and piano, gave the first, and longer, movement (shorn of its repeats) more gentleness than usual; in the second, Allegro di molto, movement, despite throttling back on the "molto", she conveyed well its blithe, teeming nature.

On to three highly contrasted Chopin pieces. The Barcarolle in F-sharp major Op. 60, B. 158 (the only such-titled work in his output) is a toughish nut to crack—gently oscillating for much of its considerable length, but rising to a weighty, trill-laden climax, and with innumerable harmonic and dynamic subtleties throughout. The challenge is to make it coherent overall and its progress sound inevitable, and for me Ms. Azzi’s performance became rather effortful in its later stages.

Her account of the brief and brilliant Waltz in F major Op. 34 No. 3, B. 118 (indeed it was originally published as a “Valse brillante”) was again to my ears somewhat earth-bound, but—once more in the strongest possible contrast—the Nocturne in C minor Op. 48 No. 1, B. 142, was powerful indeed (if a little lacking in light and shade), with much attention to the bass line’s underpinning, and an accumulation of positively Rachmaninovian weight as the work progressed.

Hiromi Uehara.
Last in Ms. Azzi’s half of the recital came The Tom and Jerry Show by the Japanese jazz pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara (b. 1979). YouTube has a couple of minutes of whirlwind pianism by Ms. Uehara herself, but that seems to be a shorter version of the piece.

As played by Ms. Azzi, The Tom and Jerry Show is in ABA form, the frenetic outer parts swirling each side of a slow central section where she made the most of the smoochy, smoke-filled atmosphere, with a principal theme that kept threatening to metamorphose into “As Time Goes By.” After this, Ms. Azzi's fingers again flew as nimbly as the composer’s, and the piece made for a spectacular conclusion.

Jason Lo.
Ably accompanied throughout his half of the shared recital by pianist Jason Lo, the virtuoso saxophonist Andrew Harrison took over for three short pieces. The Spaniard Pedro Iturralde, now 90 years of age, composed his six-minute Pequeña Czarda as long ago as 1949.

After an opening flourish, it takes the form of a theme and variations, as Mr. Harrison noted in his introduction, though the variations are mainly confined to rhythm and pace rather than harmony and melodic shape. The piece gave plenty of opportunities for spectacular playing, and the piano’s more-or-less equal share in the thematic material rather than just providing accompaniment added interest.

Astor Piazzolla’s four-movement Histoire du Tango, composed in 1986, was originally written for flute and guitar, but it has had several arrangements for different instruments. Just the second movement, Cafe 1930, was the next item, and for this Mr. Harrison swapped the alto on which he’d played the Iturralde for a soprano saxophone. After a substantial piano introduction, the instrument gave an almost oboe-like plaintiveness to this dreamy, nostalgic piece: it would be good to hear the whole work in the arrangement for this duo.

Robert Muczynski.
Finally came the 1970 Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano Op. 29 by the American Robert Muczynski (1929-2010). Mr. Harrison introduced the work, noting that it had been composed as a “desert sonata,” its two movements representing first the desert in daytime and then at night.

Neither the lugubrious Andante maestoso that paints an aural picture of heat-struck immobility, nor the ensuing Allegro energico in which teeming nocturnal life springs into activity, outstayed its welcome. As much as Muczynski’s Fantasy Trio Op26, performed in another recent “Interludes” concert reviewed here, this sonata indicated that he is a composer well worth exploring.


“The Interludes”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 3.00pm, Saturday, September 21, 2019.
Photos: The performers: Courtesy Classical Crossroads Inc.; Hiromi Uehara: nomo/Michael Hoefner; Muczynski: Arizona Daily Star.

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