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S & H Concert Review

Beethoven, Takemitsu, Janácek, Ysaye, Franck Takayoshi Wanami (violin); Mineko Tsuchiya (piano). Wigmore Hall, Monday, January 20th, 2003 (CC)


Blind violinist Takayoshi Wanami lists David Oistrakh and Joseph Szigeti as his teachers. An impressive duo, and his long career (his Wigmore debut, for example, was in 1969) has brought with it its fair share of competition triumphs. He enjoys a duo partnership with pianist Mineko Tsuchiya that has been extant for the past 25 years.

This duo presented a varied programme to a well-filled Wigmore (augmented, unsurprisingly, by a clutch of labrador guide dogs who deserve a mention for their impeccable behaviour). Although the five listed composers might work well on paper, the overall impression was that the Beethoven was something of a token gesture: despite some stylish and imaginative piano playing from Tsuchiya, Wanami’s tone was frequently coarse and grating (uncomfortably so, it has to be said). Subtlety was missing in the Andante, and there was little or no grazioso element to the finale. A disappointment, and one it took a while to recover from.

The inclusion of Takemitsu was perhaps predictable, and the juxtaposition of his perfumed sound-world of ‘From far beyond Chrysanthemums and November Fog’ (1983) against that of the Beethoven of 1798 should have been a success. However, despite Tsuchiya’s adequately misty gestures, Wanami’s approximate harmonics detracted from the beautiful harmonies, as did his inappropriately disjunct cadenza. It was only in the Janácek Violin Sonata (1913) that any sense of moving into the essence of the music emerged: the simplicity of the second movement Ballade, with its almost Debussian textures, lingered particularly in the memory.

The Ysaye Sonata for Solo Violin No. 2, Op. 27 No. 2 (1924) was a brave way to start the second half. If there seemed to be evidence of an improved tone in the upper registers, tuning tended to slip. This piece makes frequent and effective reference to the Dies irae in all of its movements (it forms the basis of the variation third movement) and Wanami highlighted this well. The Franck Violin Sonata made an effective partner to the Ysaye, and here Tsuchiya came in to her own, particularly in the tricky second movement (Allegro). She also added an appropriate depth to her tone, which was established right from the very opening chords. True, more fantasy would have been welcome from both players throughout, but this remained the highlight of a mixed recital.

Colin Clarke




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