Aisa Ijiri plays Leighton Library theatre: strength in depth

On Saturday last, the 20th of September, Leighton Buzzard Music Club’s season of monthly classical concerts recommenced. These will continue now until next April: eight months of excellent recitals by up and coming young musicians selected by the club’s knowledgeable committee.

They always start the season with a bang, and this season was no exception: placing the talents of the exquisite Aisa Ijiri at the piano. Hers was a complete performance in every way: she played everything (except the short encore) without music, she provided the programme notes, and from the first notes she played she caught hold of the faithful Library theatre piano and wrung its neck. I have heard Alexander Ardakov play at the Library Theatre (he’s a firm favourite and has been more than once). He gives that resident piano such a pounding that its legs shake. Ms Ijiri was more restrained: the piano’s legs did not shake, but the sound she produced was comparable. There used to be a theory that women did not make good concert pianists because they didn’t have the physical strength. Whether or not you consider that that was always a load of bull, Ms Ijiri certainly gave the lie to it. She is tiny: she produces a huge, all-embracing, sound.

So, what did she play, I hear you ask. The first half of the programme was quintessential Liszt in all his lusciousness and with his trademark occasional daring not-quite-harmonies. She commenced with Liszt’s reworking of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor. We were given an early earnest of her skills during the fugues. This scintillating opening was followed by a little piece from the Impressionistic Années de Pèlerinage, Troisième Anné, written at and about the Villa D’Este outside Rome – at that time a home of Cardinal Hohenlohe. You may know that it is famous for its fountains. Liszt captured the rise and fall of the waters marvellously, and Ms Ijiri conveyed it to us in all its glory, to the last droplet, drawing for the listener the patterns made by the sudden release of pent up water. The music conjured wonderful waves of watery sound, reducing to silver trickles of great beauty. The final pieces of this set were The Petrarch Sonnets. Liszt arranged the original settings he wrote of these for various musical forces. Ms Ijiri thoughtfully gave the texts of the sonnets in the programme notes. Once I got over the oddness of the three pieces having lost, as it were, their words, the melodies took us quite demonstrably through three stages of the poet’s unrequited love for one Laura de Noves. Ms Ijiri developed the themes with grace, power and clarity. As may be imagined from such a non-relationship, there was quite a lot of anguish involved – as in the repeated angular note at the end of the 3rd sonnet – which Ms Ijiri conveyed to us, hovering over the bass notes of the piano like a hunting hawk.

Ms Ijiri second set began with Manuel de Falla – a favourite of mine. She gave us Fantasia Baetica. This was composed in 1919, long before de Falla’s self-imposed exile at the start of the Civil War. It celebrates southern Spain, Flamenco, the guitar music, the rhythms, the percussion, the clapping and stamping, with his customary esprit. It allowed Ms Ijiri to give her percussive style free rein. Bravo!

The final, and most substantial, piece in the programme was Prokoviev’s “Romeo and Juliet” ten pieces for Piano, being a reduction for solo piano, by the composer, of his own ballet. It was delightful to be reminded of the gorgeous melodies with which Romeo and Juliet is stuffed without the distraction of the dancing – or, indeed, having to take a couple of hours over it. They are quite lovely, from the initial, robust ‘Folk Dance’; the mouse-like scampering of ‘Young Juliet’; the processing of the haughty ‘Montagues and Capulets’; the gentle innocence of ‘Father Lorenzo’; the coarseness of ‘Mercutio’; the dissonant ‘Lily Dance of the Maidens’ turning the mood towards the final, dark ‘Farewell’. Finally we are vouchsafed a return of the lark-like theme of Romeo and Juliet’s love, for which we are yearning after the darkness. Ms Ijiri’s rendering was delicious.

She rewarded our enthusiastic applause with ‘Sakura’, a short piece by young composer Llywelyn Ap Myrddin. It depicts the joy of the Japanese during the week or so when the cherry trees bloom, and the weather forecasters chart the where and when of the best displays. She has played this on Radio 3. Hear it here if you missed the concert http://wwrecords.co.uk/portfolio/llywelyn-ap-myrddin-sakura/ It is so very good to hear ‘classical’ music of the this calibre being composed and played right NOW.

And here is a link to her website: http://www.aisaijiri.com/

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