Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Scintillating Sounds

Local harpsichordist Takae Ohnishi treated SDEMS members to a positively scintillating performance at the season-end house concert, held in the home of a SDEMS patron. Ohnishi graduated from the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo, and holds a Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. She is currently Lecturer of Harpsichord at UCSD.

She opened the program with a nice pairing of two works by Johann Jakob Froberger: a Toccata in C major, followed by the Tombeau fait a Paris sur la mort de Monsieur Blancrocher. Ms. Ohnishi demonstrated nice control of articulation in the Toccata, a fine example of Froberger's progressive harmonic language. The Tombeau is arguably one of Froberger's most performed pieces, and deservedly so: this composition speaks a romantic language not heard for another two hundred years. Ms. Ohnishi played it with the abandon the composer directs, choosing to repeat the final section, saving the dramatic "fall" for the conclusion.

Ms. Ohnishi then collected four pieces from Jean-Philippe Rameau's Nouvelles Suites de Pi├Ęces de Clavecin (ca. 1728) into a nice suite in A minor. Opening with an Allemande, taken at a very slow temp, the Courante and Sarabande built momentum to the concluding show piece, Les Trois Mains. Ms. Ohnishi played with a singing tone and a nice grasp for the poetry of the music.

Scarlatti sonatas are often used to demonstrate a harpsichordist's technical mastery: most of them dazzling trifles with lots of finger work. Ms. Ohnishi chose instead to program a pair that are less often heard, but that better showed Scarlatti's lyric side. The Sonata K208 is rare in that it has no "gimmics," just a beautiful and plaintive melody that starts solo, with a contrapuntal answer and then a tender development. It is a moving piece, nicely presented by Ms. Ohnishi. The second, Sonata K162, is even more rarely heard: initially a "sedate" piece with a surprise sparkle, providing a contrast between the tender and bold. It was refreshing to have two relative unknowns. She didn't have to strut her stuff with the Scarlatti, because the finale proved her mastery and intensity.

Antonio Soler's Fandango is one of the most Spanish pieces in the harpsichord repertoire; it just asks for castanets and (even better) a dancer! Relatively long and demanding, it can be the 18th century equivalent of Ravel's Bolero, both in its successes and failures at the hand of the performer. Ms. Ohnishi began perhaps just a tad slow, but she sustained and built momentum to a roaring climax. It was an exciting end to a very nicely balanced program that both pleased the senses and satisfied the soul.

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