22 May 2008
2008 Aurora Festival: James Cuddeford and Natsuko Yoshimoto // NSW // 16.04.08
© Bridget Elliot
Violinists James Cuddeford and Natsuko Yoshimoto recently performed at the Female Orphan School on the campus of UWS Parramatta as part of the 2008 Aurora Festival of Living Music. The program comprised works by Australian and American composers, including two solos by the iconic American composer Elliott Carter, and violin duos by established and emerging composers from both countries.
Opening the concert were the Three American Folk Hymn Settings by Kenji Bunch – an up-and-coming composer from New York. From the first draw of the bow, the tone was immediate and sonorous. This presence of tone and attack was sustained through the entire work, embracing the audience with its clarity and warmth, and gave the illusion of hearing the work through high-quality headphones. The central ‘flautando’ section of the work had harmonics floating through the intimate space and tapping each and every shoulder in the room. With flawless intonation and blend of tone, the performers created an ethereal, other-worldly atmosphere with long gliding bow-strokes and a seeming weightlessness to their physical presence. The energy was paced beautifully towards a joyous conclusion to the work.
It was a shame that, due to the physical confines of the room and the size of the scores, Yoshimoto was, for much of the first few works, partially hidden behind the music stands. Visually this detracted from the physicality of the live performance experience: I found it difficult to grasp a tangible sense of communication between the duo.
Incorporating many stylistic influences, including a ‘Beethoven-esque’ second movement and a fiery tango to conclude, Roger Smalley’s Suite for Two Violins evoked for me reminiscences of a wild tarantella. Performing this work enabled both violinists to explore contrasts, highlighted mostly by the ever-shifting exchange of performance roles throughout the five-movement work. The duo’s ability to blend and emerge from the work’s textures enhanced the musical lines and harmonic flow. The duality of percussive and legato figures in the opening movement, for example, was conveyed to great effect, while still retaining an homogenous sound.
Yoshimoto performed the first of Carter’s solo works Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi, which, like the opening piece, features the technique of double-stopping. Despite the strength of this technique in Bunch’s work, the execution of the double-stops in the Carter was hesitant. This added an unexpected sense of fragility to the interpretation of the work, whether intentionally or otherwise.
The program also saw the premiere of Aurora Festival Director, Matthew Hindson’s violin duo Metallic Violins. In typical Hindson style, the work was an exuberant exploration of the influence of heavy metal music, with the performers trading blows in true rock’n’roll fashion. Overall, however, the performance felt quite reserved: a sense of lighthearted playfulness was lacking. The persistent energy of the writing gave the work an intrinsic momentum, and while the execution was precise, a sense of spontaneity and ‘grit’ was missing and would have enhanced the performance considerably.
James Cuddeford’s compositional contribution to the program was a work in response to the 2006 tsunami, a personal reflection on the devastation caused by this tragedy. Cuddeford was in Southern India at the time, and a representation of the event’s impact and its aftermath flows through his composition. Concealed Waves is a blend of contemplation and urgency. A sense of submerged anticipation was evident throughout the work: the physical movements of the bows across the strings, for instance, complemented the undulating melodic figures. This movement seemingly depicted the deceptive calmness of the waters.
The second of the Carter solo works was the brief Rhapsodic Musings. With this work, Cuddeford revisited the crystalline presence of tone and attack evident earlier in the evening’s recital. The composition was schizophrenic in its juxtaposition of sustained legato melodic fragments – mostly in the upper register – against aggressive leaps across the violin’s entire range, usually emanating from the lower register.
Complementing the opening work of the program (Bunch’s hymn settings) was Stuart Greenbaum’s Danny Boy Variations. Unlike the traditional ‘variation’ form, Greenbaum used only selected fragments of this well-known melody throughout this work. Alongside fleeting glimpses of familiar chords, melodies would emerge as if rising through a mist. A canonic conclusion to the work saw Cuddeford and Yoshimoto turn from each other and slowly walk away as they played the closing pitches, as if retreating to their own world of reminiscences.
A piercing opening phrase in the upper register of the violin heralded the evening’s final work – Stephen Hartke’s O them rats is mean in my kitchen. Assertive pizzicati punctuated the melodic line, and grainy glissandi brought ol’ man blues to the stage singing his heart out alongside the violinists. Each movement of the work brought new southern flavours to the table, including a haunting muted blues melody, frenetic sul tasto passages, flurries of notes traversing the entire range of the instrument, and ending with a hoedown morphing into what sounded like a semi-improvised section interspersed with rhythmic ‘hiccups’.
It was impossible to not be deeply engaged in Cuddeford’s and Yoshimoto’s performance. The size and acoustic of the venue drew the audience in on a fundamental level. The musical conviction of both performers ensured an honest, moving and utterly convincing interpretation of most works in the program. What promised to be a somewhat interesting recital became an impressive display of the diversity and power of two violins.
© Australian Music Centre (2008) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Subjects discussed by this article:
Janet McKay is a prize-winning flautist (James Carson Prize – Qld 1993; Albert Cooper Prize – UK 1996) who has held executive positions in the Qld and NSW Flute Societies, and was Assistant Artistic Director of the 10th Australian Flute Convention. Having recently completed a Master of Music (Performance) at the Sydney Conservatorium, Janet is a freelance performer and teacher specialising in contemporary flute music.
Be the first to share add your thoughts and opinions in response to this article.
You must login to post a comment.