@Fest Sonic essence of Africa

Sonic essence of Africa

This piano duo featuring Andre Petersen, a classically trained jazz pianist, and Kathleen Tagg, a classical pianist with an interest in African pianism and unconventional treatment of the piano, is an interesting partnership in a programme that mainly celebrates the sonic essence of Africa.

Captivating for its exploration of a myriad sonorities, this programme doesn’t fully ignite despite moments of technical virtuosity and perfectly synchronized rhythmical complexity.

Although it has innumerable examples of outstanding musicianship and well-intentioned artistic import, the performance’s overall thread needs greater energetic thrust and fervent propulsion.

In a tribute to the American Songbook, Petersen and Tagg perform Ira Gershwin’s Embraceable You, where each pianist has the scope to enter their niche musical zones. Here, Tagg’s compelling, supreme pianism – where rippling arpeggio figurations swirl around the principal theme and a perfectly graded climax erupts with volcanic explosiveness – reveals the underlying essence of her musical personality. Likewise, in a brilliant pianistic display, Petersen’s improvisatory abilities are fully realized as he directs the virtuosity of his magnificent musical imagination.

Yet these attributes are still to penetrate the seemingly predetermined structures of their piano duo arrangements. These arrangements appear to restrict Petersen’s remarkable gifts for improvisation, and in Bheki Mseleku’s Angola he appears hemmed in, possibly wishing for more artistic space to explore the piano’s full range as well as his musical resourcefulness. However, clothed in Tagg-Petersen’s reflective colours where swirling ostinato figures intermingle with interlocking rhythms, Ntyilo Ntyilo enters an innovative sound space that exhibits considerable artistic perception.

Tagg’s compositions show understanding and appreciation for compositional processes associated with African pianism and experimental treatment of the piano’s sonic capabilities. Interlocking textures in As the Flowers Bloom and Second Time Around showcase her authoritative appreciation of this idiom, especially convincing in her treatment of multilayered thematic material.

Based on text from the biblical book of Daniel, Petersen’s Time Watcher’s showcases the African soul where gentle ostinato patterns intermingle with otherworldly sonic effects with the piano frequently treated as an African bow instrument.

In this work, multi-thematic planes evolve into filmic-type episodes, possibly underscoring the text’s reference to changing time and seasons. In D’Julle, Ons en Hulle, Petersen’s writing is idiomatically assured with space to express his expansive improvisatory capabilities and phenomenal musical imagination.

Opening the concert with Abdullah Ibrahim’s African Dawn, Petersen and Tagg impress with their commanding opening flourishes where Petersen develops dramatic intensity through appropriating Ibrahim’s trademark tremolando technique, offset against Tagg’s sonic additions that invoke the sounds and smells of Africa.

Pianistically, Tagg and Petersen are equally matched with their styles complementing the desired artistic product, despite their preferred comfort with different expressive realms. This programme simply needs more space for individual expression, which when achieved will generate sustained energy.

Beethoven Room 9 July, 3pm

Jeffery Brukman
Cue specialist writer

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