Saturday 11 January 2014

Concordia Foundation and Satoko Fukuda go ‘Beyond the Horizon’

Sakato Fukuda - Credit Andy Newcombe
Sakato Fukuda - Credit Andy Newcombe
Beyond the Horizon: Concordia Foundation & Satoko Fukuda: St Martin in the Fields
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jan 7 2014
Star rating: 3.0

'Beyond the Horizon' a meeting of new and old English, Japanese and South American music

The Concordia Foundation started their 2014 season with 'Beyond the Horizon' a meeting of new and old English, Japanese and South American music at St Martin in the Fields. Imagined by violinist Satoko Fukuda this concert was a showcase for her playing and her passion, dancing.

The concert began with the beautiful ‘Zen Love Song’ by Roxanne Panufnik (1968 - ) sung by Voces8, with Clive Bell playing the shakuhachi. Taken from a poem by the 15th century Zen master Ikkyū Sōjun, this song tells the story of the loss of a little boy’s nursemaid. A fusion of renaissance part song and Japanese lullaby, the main feature is a cushion of sound from which voices and Japanese flute appear and fall back. This is followed by a section which separates out the two sounds – firstly the voices sung in English, with a more traditionally English ambience, followed by a flute solo providing the Japanese feel, before they join back together for the ending.

This song was accompanied by a pretty cartoon projected centre stage - VJ Mischa Ying's animation of an anime-like bird and a day in the Japanese countryside.

The ethereal nature of ‘Zen’ was continued with ‘Ethereal sky’ from ‘Création d’un Parfum’. Written by Satoko Fukuda, and arranged by Fabio D’Andrea for Fukuda and the Concordia International Ensemble, this began with Fukuda, ghost-like in white up on the balcony. Based around trills, on and off harmonics, this was very atmospheric as she was joined by other violins walking to the stage down the side aisles and long held bass notes.

Her idea for the piece was based on using the process behind creating a perfume to create a composition. The first movement was the top note, the second, more expansive movement with its mixture of held notes and pizzicato was the heart note. The end of this movement was a long cadenza with interesting portamento and slowed down trills, although it also made great use of triple stopped chords more usually found in Bach’s music. The final movement is described as the bass note with its ‘lingering memory’. But it ends as it began with violin solo.

‘Ethereal sky’ flowed straight into the presto from ‘Summer’ of the Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741). A very solid piece after all the eerie hauntings this had a spirited, although not very accurate solo, by Fukuda.

The two pieces played by Ahmed Dickinson, ‘La Muerte del Angel’ by Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 1992) and ‘UnDia de Noviembre’ by Leo Brouwer (1939 - ) were unfortunately so quiet from where I sat that it is impossible for me to comment on them. The passion and depth of feeling I was expecting for Latin American compositions was swallowed up - the guitar is not an instrument for such a large hall.

That said Dickinson was able to do more with less for ‘Akatombo, a traditional Japanese song arranged by Li Lu which talks about longing for home. This duet with Fukuda was a pretty and airy accompaniment to a film/slide show of Japanese trees.

‘Tanko Bushi’ another traditional Japanese melody was performed by Hibiki Ichikawa on shamisen leading into a duet between Ichikawa and Dickinson, ‘Danza Caracteristica’ by Leo Brouwer. ‘Danza’ was originally written for solo guitar, and the peeling away of part of the music for shamisen brought into sharp relief the differences in their sounds. This piece was illustrated by dancers from Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance.

‘Proelium’ by Fabio D’Andrea (premier) was meant to be a battle between east and west starting with Ichikawa vs the ensemble, then a guitar solo, before everyone pitched in. If this was a battle the shamisen won, as Dickinson was soon overpowered by the orchestra. ‘Consilium Concordia’ worked much better as a showcase for the ensemble, Voces8, and shakuhachi. While ‘Proelium’ used Japanese ideas, ‘Consilium’ was set in pastoral England, with Ralph Vaughan Williams harmonies and flowing lines into which the Japanese flute fitted seamlessly.

The rest of the concert was all about Japanese culture. Ichikawa played ‘Tsugaru Jongara Bushi’ – showing what it is possible for his instrument to do - and was then joined by the ensemble for ‘Matsu no Midori’ to a backdrop of pine trees. This piece was accessorised with (I think) Fukuda performing tradition Japanese dancing – however I could hardly see her over the audience, especially because the dance seemed to include lots of bobbing and crouching.

Following this Fukuda played ‘Lark ascending’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958). Here Fukuda reinterpreted it with a Japanese flavour and continued her dancing by traversing down the central aisle in a knee-killing crouching position as the piece came to an end.

The final work ‘Sakura Sakura’ arranged by D’Andrea for the ensemble and Voces8 was another traditional song and was described as a journey through the four seasons exemplifying artistic transformation. They were joined by a troop of ladies in traditional Japanese costume gliding and dancing down the centre aisle and Fukuda with a parasol.

A strong multicultural idea this concert was let down by its staging. The performers were, in the main, at the same level as the audience, so when they sat down to play the audience’s bodies absorbed the sound and only the heads of the musicians could be seen. This was most noticeable for Ahmed Dickinson. The guitar is a quiet instrument (without amplification) and, from the back of the packed hall, only the merest whisper could be heard. Equally the dancers may have been charming but their dance included lots of low level movements, where they bobbed down below the level of the pew ends, and they must have been practically invisible to those at the far ends of the rows.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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