‘The sparky piano duet of Waka Hasegawa and Joseph Tong’
Musical Opinion Quarterly October 2017
Cheltenham Music Festival, July 2017
Before the [Vaughan Williams] Sea Symphony concert came the delightful Piano 4 Hands, performed by Waka Hasegawa and Joseph Tong, an established piano duo of true merit. Music by Mozart, his Andante with Variations, K501 and Schubert, his utterly sublime Fantasie, D940 were joined by two premieres. Variations on a Theme by Haydn by David Matthews lasts nearly 20 minutes but is so crammed with ingenious invention that the time sped by.
Matthews is an English composer to his core (his monumental Sixth Symphony embraces the hymn tune Down Ampney by Vaughan Williams as its motto theme) but here he always manages to keep the interest of
his audience by including so many musical genres and styles. In these Variations he offers a waltz, a canon, a tango, a chromatic blues, a barcarolle, a moto perpetuo, and ends with a four-part fugue before the final presto in scherzo mood; all this ingenuity comes from the original choice of a theme from the opening of Haydn’s last String Quartet, Op. 103. Using this diversity Matthews has written an eloquent and elevated work, reinforced on this notable occasion by the commitment of his performers.
They were also heard in the altogether different style of Daniel Kidane, coming from a generation younger than Matthews. Classical forms cease to be relevant in this new work and I confess to being bemused reading that what I was listening to was based on a genre of electronic music that developed in England in the early 1990s as part of rave music scenes…the performers produced the necessary fire and brimstone demanded by the young composer.
The concert closed with a real audience favourite, the ever lovable First Symphony, the Classical, by Prokofiev in a new version for four hands, one piano by Waka Hasegawa. This is music that brings a smile to the face and a pleasure in any format.
Hereford Times, September 2015
Musical Opinion November 2013
The Arts Desk, July 2013 – Britten and Poulenc at the Cheltenham Music Festival
My own three-day slice of Cheltenham began with a summoning of bells in high Poulencian style – the 1950s Sonata for Two Pianos played by Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa. This duo must have muscles of steel for the kind of mega-programme they were offering. Theirs was hardly the usual morning aperitif in the fabulous Pittville Pump Room, approached in my case via the most heavenly rus in urbe walk imaginable across the lawns and around the lake of the Pittville Estate from the peaceful Townhouse just within the boundaries of spa-exploiter Joseph Pitt’s once-exclusive Elysium. The first half alone also embraced Britten’s surprisingly monumental Introduction and Rondo all Burlesca, the obliquely charming miniature childsplay of Dai Fujikura’s brand-new Three Miniatures – this has been quite a year for him already – and Grainger’s epic ramble through Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, showing an equal master’s touch in the playful transcription of “It Ain’t Necessarily So”.
Tong and Hasegawa are well matched: he excels in the Russian-school thunder, she in the clarion carillons at the top of the register. Their Rite of Spring was well-tempered and always clear-textured, if not cumulatively overwhelming. Balm came with the encore – Poulenc’s ravishing but simple Élégie, a piece I fell in love with only a few months ago and little thought I’d hear in live performance so soon. Poulenc’s proposed cognac on the piano and a cigar in hand would have to be imagined for health and safety reasons, quipped Tong, but the nostalgic tribute to a lost friend certainly touched the necessary depths.
Wiltshire Times, April 2011 – Piano 4 Hands concert, 6th April 2011, Wiltshire Music Centre
Rachmaninov’s towering Suite No 2, for two pianos, one of them the piano used by the composer himself when touring England – a bespoke composition, one could say – played by Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa will probably go down as the highlight of the current season at the Wiltshire Music Centre.
It concluded a programme prefaced by a reception for supporters of this jewel of a venue at which important Arts Council funding was announced, adding even more significance to the choice of programme.
These two performers – as Piano 4 Hands probably now unmatched anywhere as a piano duo – have a synergy that borders on the surreal. How do they, sitting 14 or so feet away from each other, start so precisely together and, even more difficult, finish together? Yes, practice, practice, of course; but… The Rachmaninov, full-blooded yet with its moments of delicacy, was played with pertness and a crispness that was all enveloping; its richness drained the emotions; it made two pianos sound like a full orchestra. Chopin, Debussy, even Stravinsky to make the cup run over – any of those pieces could have been the star of the evening but for sheer versatility, Percy Grainger’s Fantasy on Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess was just out of this world.
Eastern Daily Press 13th May 2009 – Piano 4 Hands, St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds (Bury St Edmunds Festival)
With mellifluous tones from the newly-donated Steinway Concert Grand, duetists Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa gave a stately beginning to Schubert’s Fantasie in F minor as they passed the themes seamlessly one to another in yesterday’s lunchtime recital.
A statuesque and emphatic slow section then preceded a grand progression to the work’s final resolution.
John McCabe’s recent composition, Upon Entering a Painting, is dedicated to the pianists, and it was not so much hearing paint drying as listening to it dripping in ever- increasing quantities as the layers and colours built up.
This was a deftly-handled four-handed musical painting (though certainly not a quiet landscape) that might well have included fast-flowing water towards the end.
And so to the somewhat more genteel opening picture of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole. Just as evocative as the previous work, though, and starting with a romantic flourish enclosing the two shorter dances before a reminder of summer days to come perhaps in the warmth of Spain.
The whole programme was played with great panache and sensitivity by this award-winning combination, who made perfect harmony for a lunchtime break.