Music / “Death and the Maiden”, Alina Ibragimova and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. At Llewellyn Concert Hall, March 17. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY
A select group of audience members, hosted by the Embassy of Japan last night as part of its continuing efforts to promote cultural diplomacy, saw an extraordinary recital at Llewellyn Hall as part of her first visit to Australia.
It left many wondering about the inner life of a virtuoso pianist, for Kosuge differs from many classical concert pianists in disappearing entirely into her interior thoughts as she performs, often appearing tormented or abstracted.
In deference to her German musical education, she began the recital by performing Bach’s rarely-performed, “Aria variata all maniera italiana a-Moll”, of which she has said: “I feel his [Bach’s] pain and belief in the beautiful aria.”
This work was performed with restraint, but in her second piece, Beethoven’s s Sonata No 21 in C major, “The Waldstein Sonata,” all restraint was abandoned as Kosuge seemingly vanished into her instrument with passionate intensity. The work, composed when Beethoven acquired a new piano, is known for the way it tests the “palette of sounds” made possible by the instrument. Kosuge tested that palette to its extremity.
The second half of the program was devoted to the theme of water, something, Kosuge notes, which is “universal and necessary for life”. Opening with Japanese composer Toru Takesmitsu’s “The Raintree Sketch,” Kosuge performed this abstract and philosophical work with quiet delicacy.
There followed two works by Liszt. The first of these, “The Play of Water in the Villa de’Este,” gave Kosuge the opportunity to demonstrate her superb dexterity of her fingers as she replicated the sounds of water sprinkling and bubbling.
The second piece, “Ballade No. 2,” was inspired by the Greek story of Hero and her lover Leander – “too much of water,” as Shakespeare wrote. Here Kosuge was in her element, stirring up a storm of music, first dark and foreboding, but concluding on a brighter note.
Indeed, one unusual aspect of the recital was the way in which, several times Kosuge faded away to complete silence before the applause.
The final work was the “Liebstod” (Love-Death) from Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”, a tale in which the sea features prominently. The version performed by Kosuge was arranged by Liszt and allowed her a lush and expansive performance.
The audience stamped its feet for an encore and was rewarded with a delicate piece of Chopin.