Presteigne Festival August 2015

The Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts is more than 30 years old. The Festival’s Event 9 on 29 August was an afternoon recital of music for piano duet given in St Andrews Church by the acclaimed duo Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa.

Their set mainly comprised impressionistic music by contemporary composers and Debussy. All 24 of the Festival’s events carry descriptive names – this one was called ‘Upon Entering a Painting’.

The exception was the opening piece, the exquisitely executed Mozart duet sonata in F. The serenity of the work as a whole – entirely befitting the atmosphere of our surroundings – is just one reason why it should be heard more often. Perhaps the logistics of organising piano duet recitals puts some outstanding music in the shadow.

Two fairly short works by contemporary composers Matthew Taylor (b 1964) and Rob Keeley (b 1960), both of whom were in the audience, sandwiched the piece by John McCabe (1939-2015) whose title provided the event’s title. The opening – a brittle sound of breaking glass reminiscent of Schoenberg’s later piano works – heralded an extensive pianistic exploration of what was meant to be a painting by Rothko.

McCabe’s duet, however, did little to evoke Rothko’s mesmerising, static images; on the contrary, its sometimes hectic attack and flamboyant gestures served more to show off the astounding technical prowess of the players.

The three postmodernist works that made up the programme’s central sections are the very stuff of the Presteigne endeavour to promote new music that is accessible, even if the music itself is sometimes a little unexciting.Upon Entering a Painting is cleverly written, though slightly repetitive – and not in the minimalist sense. Some of its harmonic devices anticipated the final work in the recital, Debussy’s Petite Suite.

By far the best loved work in the concert, the Petite Suite is impressionistic music par excellence. With its echoes of the Suite Bergamasque, by turns it swings, flows and bounces along with an elegance that was admirably captured by the duo. An accomplished performance all round, which ended with Fauré’s Berceuse, from his Dolly Suite, played as an encore.