Heil, Mary

A voice and piano recital on February 3 at Goethe-Institut. Reviewed by A.S.H. Smyth

For Eriko Tokùra Perera’s final Colombo appearance (‘CDs available afterwards’), the soprano, accompanied by Masahiko Shinohara, offered a programme of German and French classics from ‘Shubert’ [sic.] to Ravel.

Though Tokùra Perera’s bio suggests she performs at the level of gifted amateur, her voice, per se, is without question the best I’ve heard in Colombo. She sang with a natural passion, especially in Gretchen am Spinnrade allein, and there were some particularly creamy moments as voice and piano shifted gear together in that transcendental Schubertian manner.

Her tendency to clip the short notes (problem enough already in the consonant-heavy German) was most pronounced in the opening Die Forelle, and in general Tokùra Perera performed Schubert’s songs with an over-done vigour better suited to a Strauss (J.) light opera. But the Ave Maria (Ellens Gesang III) is a resilient number, and she handled it well, a testament to what, very often, can be achieved if you take your foot off the gas a bit (given room to manoeuvre, Tokùra Perera has a beautiful decrescendo).

The second half began with those too-short lurching half-tunes that announce the arrival of pre-modern impressionist French song (back when modern actually was). The songs were… oh, what does it matter? They were French songs: four by Debussy, and two by Fauré (not ‘Faure’ – seventh Président de la République – as advertised). All beaucoup of a muchness.

I’ve never liked this stuff. All those lingering disharmonies that are understood, actually, to be harmonies after all. But Tokùra Perera’s tone was just right for it, careering around the octaves, her delivery convincing and yet just that touch distraught. Alas, though, her quick bite-down was pushing its luck with the tricksy vowel-swallowing of sung French. The words took something of a back seat.

Programmes containing the full texts of songs always seem a bit of a waste of effort (apart from reviewers, who re-reads them?), but delivering translations aloud can really add something to a performance: usually quarter of an hour, give or take. Here it also verged on the surreal: “Ave Maria, maiden mild”, an English (rhyming) translation from Latin, sung by a Japanese… in German. Weeeird. I suppose it makes sense that Schubert should at some point have set the Ave Maria in his native language; but in all my years as a chorister, I swear I’ve never heard it that way. (Why ‘Ave’, then – in German or English?)

Not content to settle for the accompanist’s back seat (and quite right too) Masahiko Shinohara showed Beethoven who was boss in the Sonata No. 32. His rendition was exactly Beethoven – which is to say vitally, essentially, inexact. The tune fought gloriously to swell out of the ramp and roar. The pedal block heaved underfoot, the strings were dzunging (German for ‘noise piano strings make’) through the open lid, and no two consecutive bars went unharried in terms of volume, tempo or tone.The audience, who until now had been too busy clapping to let the piano hum out at the end of each piece, sat in awed silence for at least a second before exploding into applause.

After that, Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ (Suite Bergamasque) was rather a come-down – and it’s a shame one can no longer hear it without thinking of Danny Ocean boosting the Bellagio. But there it is. A beautiful piece, still.

Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin is a series of six études in rather hectic and joyless virtuosity (it was conceived as an aural re-enactment of WWI artillery barrages). I was sorry not to be able to watch Shinohara’s hands at work/play – especially in the ‘Toccata’ final movement – but for the most part Le Tombeau is a giant fireworks display: there’s only so much sparkle you can take before you notice you’ve a crick in your neck and your feet have gone numb. For a joint recital, too, this seemed the wrong note(-cluster) to end on.

Who was Couperin, anyway, and why did he have a memorial? No idea. If only someone had given us a translation.

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