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Oxford Proms 2011

Mami Shikimori - Piano. Mozart, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel and Ensemble Settecento - Mozart Clarinet Concerto, Beethoven Piano Concerto
Holywell Music Room, Wed 17th August & Sheldonian Theatre, Sat 20th August 2011

August 22, 2011
For this Summer Prom the interior of the Sheldonian, following the recent facelift to much of its seating, sparkled on this sultry August evening.

The programme kicked off with Handel’s sinfonietta Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. I could have sworn I read somewhere that Prince Charles has already pencilled it in for his coronation in 20??, but my neighbour was adamant that Zadok the Priest is the preferred candidate. Be that as it may, we swiftly abandoned the court of old King Solomon for the island of Murano in the Venice lagoon. Inspired by a visit to one of the famous glassworks, local composer Tim Perkins wrote Bending Glass, a short piece for bassoon, harpsichord and strings. This wished to summon up musically the process of the blown liquid glass assuming its solid state, a plausible enough association as the gentle vibrato from the stings assumed pleasingly hypnotic form. I was put in mind first of some impressionism from Debussy, then of Shostakovich and at last of the music of Takashi Yoshimatsu, a contempory Japanese composer.
Then on to the Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A, with soloist Catriona Scott in a shiny turquoise dress. This is so familiar yet never fails to thrill. A review of the 1791 premiere claimed: “If any fault had to be found in Mozart, it could surely be... that such abundance of beauty almost tires the soul, and the effect of the whole is sometimes obscured thereby. But happy the artist whose only fault lies in all too great perfection.” There’s nonsensical critical logic writ large! How Humpty Dumpty would have enjoyed that!

Here the Ensemble Settecento gave us a low-key performance, with little feeling of the soloist engaged in any sort of duel with the orchestra, passing the melody back and forth for spiky development or second thoughts. This was more like gladsome entertainment at a fete galante. Winsome, but missing a little bite.
The second half was all Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto. Soloist Mami Shikimori cut an elegant figure at the keyboard, playing with the visually easy grace generally denied to the male pianist. While once or twice in the allegro she did not quite rise clear of the orchestra, her beautifully clear enunciation of the right hand notes, especially in the final rondo, was a delight and she was not put off by John Traill’s strangely sluggish tempo at the start of the adagio. I also thought the orchestra a bit under-powered in the final crescendo. No encore from Miss Shikimori, though I was just in the mood for a Chopin Nocturne. But we’d already had our money’s worth.
Oxford Proms. Piano Recital by Mami Shikimori in the Holywell Music Room, 17th August. This was a serious recital programme which included Brahm's monumental Piano Sonata No 3 in F Minor, a premiere by Oxford composer Tim Perkins, some Debussy preludes, Ravel's La Valse, and starting with Mozarts Rondo in A minor K 511. There was a good attendance and the audience were very enthusiastic. Shikimori played an encore in response to an ovation after the Ravel. It was unannounced, but obviously Brahms - I guess a capriccio. She really makes the piano sing; someone in the audience said she played like a violinist! This was a rare talent amongst such a crowd of soloists who play in Oxford. I enjoyed her playing as much as the celebrities in the Philomusica International series.
Ensemble Settecento with Conductor John Traill, Sheldonian Theatre 20th August 2011. This was an immensly enjoyable evening with lots of superb moments. It opened with Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba and moved to a modern work for Bassoon. Harpsichord and Strings by Oxford Composer Tim Perkins - the bassoon part being beautifully played by his wife Susanna.The balance was good and the work much more enjoyable and interesting than I had expected. Then came Mozart's Clarinet Concerto - a wonderful and fiesty performance by Catriona Scott intertwined beatifully with the ensemble. But finally Mami Shikimori stole the show in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. A fantastic performance with the ensemble. With all the works with soloists I was particularly impressed by John Traill's very sensitive following of them rather than the other way round!! I will make sure I hear this ensemble again and all the soloists!!
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