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Seen and Heard Recital Review

Debussy Noriko Ogawa (piano), Wigmore Hall, 1pm, Monday November 8th, 2004 (CC)

Funny how expectations can sometimes be cruelly dashed, even, as in this case, temporarily. Having been thoroughly impressed by Ogawa’s BIS discography (see below), the thought of hearing an all-Debussy recital was a mouth-watering one. Something of a celebrity in Japan, Ogawa’s recorded Debussy exudes intelligence and sensitivity.

The initial question in the first of Debussy’s Arabesques was of Ogawa’s handling of the infamous Wigmore Hall acoustic. Pedalling was hit-and-miss, and the overall impression was that Ogawa could not settle. Worse, she seemed less than alive to the characteristic qualities of individual chords and sonorities, a vital component of Debussian interpretation. The second Arabesque went some way towards dispelling doubts though, emerging as delicate without degenerating into the merely prissy. She just missed the wit of the end.

When Ogawa returned to the stage for Book 2 of Debussy’s Préludes (1911-13), this time her concentration joined her. Beautifully pure, even pianissimi and evocative open intervals marked out a fine ‘Brouillards’. Each Prélude received its due care and attention from the soloist, from the robust (and later on, sexily slinky) ‘La Puerto del vino’ to the humour of ‘Général Lavine - eccentric’. If her descending scales lacked the final element of fantasy in ‘Les terraces des audiences du clair de lune’, her presentation of the various strands of Debussy’s thought in ‘Ondine’ was awe-inspiring. Humour, too, had arrived in the largesse Ogawa accorded to the bass statement of God Save the Queen in ‘ Hommage a S. Pickwick Esq., P.P.M.P.C.’, to be contrasted with the most delicate porcelain of ‘Canope’.

Her last two Préludes were fascinating. ‘Les tierces alternées’ was superbly even, bringing to mind Mitsuko Uchida’s exemplary recording of Debussy’s Etudes (Philips 50 464 698-2). Finally, ‘Feux d’artifice’, just missing Bonfire Night, presented ‘real’ horn-calls against swirls of sound and a veiled, perfectly timed ‘Marseillaise’. Explicitly not a virtuoso showpiece, Ogawa had finally found form, albeit very late in this short recital (around 50 minutes). La plus que lente acted, in its exquisite charm, as the perfect programmed encore.

Colin Clarke

Further Listening:

Debussy Volume 1 BIS CD1105
Debussy Volume 2 BIS CD1205
Rimsky-Korsakov Piano Concerto BIS CD1387

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