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A worthy ending to a recital season at St John’s in Harrow

The Church of St. John the Baptist, Greenhill, Harrow, holds a series of lunchtime recitals that is now in its forty-sixth season (having skipped a year, last year, due to the Covid pandemic). On Thursday, 7 July 2022, at 12:30 p.m., the last recital of this season’s series was given by Yuki Negishi, piano. Ms Negishi’s programme was as follows:

Marianna von MARTINEZ: Allegro from Sonata in E major;

Claude DEBUSSY: Three Preludes from Book I:

  • Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir (Sounds and scents swirl in the evening air)
  • Les collines d’Anacapri (The hills of Anacapri)
  • Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the snow)

Alexander SCRIABIN: Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9

Sergei BORTKIEWICZ: Elégie, Op. 46

INTERVAL

Frederic CHOPIN: Three Pieces

Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1
Waltz in A flat major, Op. 42
Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53, “Héroique”

Nikolai KAPUSTIN: Sonata No. 1, Op. 39, “Sonata-Fantasia”, 4th movement

Marianna von Martinez was a student of Joseph Haydn, and played piano duets with W. A. Mozart. Ms Negishi played this Allegro movement with crisp, clear articulation and beautiful phrasing. The sound texture was also very limpid and transparent, as it should be in a work written in this classical style. At the beginning of the piece, I found myself wishing for a little more dynamic contrast, perhaps, but – as the piece went on – there was such contrast in abundance … perhaps it was just a question for everyone, pianist and audience alike, to get warmed up and adjusted to the acoustics of the church.

The Debussy Preludes were perfect to showcase Ms Negishi’s musicality – I felt she really felt at home in the Impressionist composer’s rich, luxurious harmonies and writing style. The second of the three Preludes (The Hills of Anacapri) was particularly well played, I felt, with what resembled a wall of sound coming out of the piano – warm, beautiful melody lines standing out from the harmonies underneath them. The final Prelude had shimmering use of timbres and pianistic colours, and some simply wonderful use of rubato.

Alexander Scriabin was a modern, turn of the 20th century composer who saw himself as somewhat of a mystic, much of his writing reflecting that state of spirit of his. Here, we heard his music at its most tender. These two pieces are written to be played exclusively with the left hand, but – if one closes one’s eyes and just listens, that is a difficult fact to tell, as the music truly sounds as if two hands, not one, are playing. Ms Negishi gave a truly spellbinding performance here, with stunning long melody lines, so well brought out of the texture of the piece, and the dynamic structure of the piece was truly well judged, throughout – she, I felt, paced herself so well, so that when dynamic climaxes arrived, they would truly be felt with devastating impact, due to her having judged the structure of the piece so well, and not allowed it to peak too quickly, nor too soon. Her playing, by now, was such that one could hear a pin drop in the audience, during it.

The Elégie by Bortkiewicz closed the first part of the concert – a piece both reflective and full of yearning, by the Ukrainian 20th century composer. Here, Ms Negishi displayed great virtuosity, but always at the service of the music – and, once more, the use of beautiful colours to communicate the emotions the composer tried to depict, in a piece that – in certain moments – would not have felt out of place as the soundtrack of a particularly poignant movie scene.

After the interval, it was time for us to hear some well-known pieces by Chopin. Ms Negishi’s sound was clear, confident and projecting to the back of the church, with total control over technique and dynamics – again, all in service of the music. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful dynamic transitions when unexpected modulations took place, in the Nocturne. The Waltz, unfortunately, felt a little rushed, to me … but the Polonaise “Heroique” was a genuine triumph, a superb rendition in every way.

The Kapustin 4th movement from his Sonata-Fantasia, a piece I was looking forward to hearing here, was to close Ms Negishi’s recital. This Ukrainian-born composer specialised in jazz music, this piece being no exception. Ms Negishi performed it masterfully, with technical command which was virtually flawless. Perhaps she could have sat back a little and given time to the jazzy elements to come out a little more and speak for themselves? It feels a little picky to make that comment, though, as the performance and interpretation of this very difficult piece were assured and confident, and they worked in a completely coherent manner, making for a sparkling, champagne-like ending to the scheduled programme.

Ms Negishi finally played us Debussy’s Clair de Lune as her encore. I truly feel that this kind of style of writing, which requires such beautiful colours from the pianist playing it, showcases Ms Negishi’s playing at its best. The rubati returned in stunning, well-thought-out fashion … the nuances and timbres were nothing short of sublime – a joy to hear, worthy of the enthusiastic applause she received, and a worthy ending to the recital season at St John’s, this summer.

A worthy ending to a recital season at St John's in Harrow Harrow Online
Yuki Negishi. Credit: Vlad Bourceanu

The St John Lunchtime Music series resumes for its 47th season on Thursday, 22 September 2022, 12:30 p.m., with Warren Mailley-Smith at the piano. In the meantime, if one wishes to hear more music concerts in Harrow, one can always attend the Harrow Summer Music Festival 2022, which will start on Thursday 14 July 2022, at 12:30 p.m., at St. John’s – admission being free, with retiring collection.