Alan Cooper reviews soundfestival 2017: Pascal Gallois solo recital


Saturday 11th November, 2017

Pascal Gallois’s performance on Thursday with the Red note ensemble was pretty amazing but his solo performance at lunchtime on Saturday went way beyond that. There were three composers represented in his programme with two works by the Hungarian composer György Kurtág (b. 1926) and one each by the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955) and the Italian, Luciano Berio (1925 – 2003). Gallois knew these composers well. He had worked closely with two of them at least and his generous and relaxed chats with the audience regarding the details of the music provided a unique gateway into these challenging works that I found absolutely indispensable so thank-you so very much Pascal!

I will start with the two works by Kurtág. The first was composed originally for cello and had a close relationship with the music of J. S. Bach. Pascal began by playing the Bach piece which acted as an inspiration for Kurtág’s Piinszky János: Gérard de Nerval, the work which opened the concert. Kurtág’s music mirrored Bach’s especially in its melodic leaps but the minimal inclusion of an advanced technique and the sheer concentration of the music made this short piece very powerful indeed.

The second piece by Kurtág, also quite short was the third in the programme. Another work focusing on a departed soul, Kroó György in memoriam was also very powerful and concentrated. Here too there was a connection with J’ S. Bach and Pascal told us that it was necessary to play the piece very slowly. Play it faster and it would seem not emotionally vibrant but just boring. It would have lost its intense emotional power. I was reminded of a comment made by Mahler about the slow movements of his symphonies. He said that if the audience seemed restive during a slow performance the cure was to take the movement even more slowly next time. The work involved a series of descending scales all differently shaped. It came across as an intensely felt work in Pascal’s wonderfully well considered performance.

The second work in the concert was Sen VII by the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa. Pascal spoke about music for the Japanese flute and about the huge ranges in Japanese music with its deeply internalised feelings of tension. This work used many of the bassoon’s uppermost sound ranges and many more extended playing techniques. The word Sen used in the title means ‘brush stroke’ with reference to the Japanese art of calligraphy and that idea was clearly expressed in Pascal’s performance where swirls, dabs and momentary lines did indeed suggest the movements of a calligrapher’s brush such as I had seen in BBC film documentaries (although these were in China). Chords were produced not just with the use of harmonics but with the voice as well. Slides, in and out of tune, breath control and even the sounds of breaths both in and out were all part of Hosokawa’s sound palette for this piece.

Pascal spoke at length about the final work in the programme. This was Sequenza XII by Luciano Berio. Pascal had collaborated closely with Berio for this piece and it was the work which stamped the idea of unequalled originality and off the scale bassoon virtuosity on this concert. Circular breathing was of paramount importance in the piece. Until just the last few seconds it was one totally uninterrupted but ever changing bassoon tone. Pascal mentioned the didgeridoo and the bagpipes which use some similar techniques and also the clarinet with its bluesy sweep at the opening of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as something to look out for in the performance. Trills between the upper and lower registers of the bassoon were required too. The work and this performance were utterly astonishing.

I would call the work in Saturday’s performance “The Impossible made Possible”. Over the years there have been performances at sound which have been totally unforgettable. This certainly has to be added to the list. What more can I say? My thesaurus is simply not up to it. Once again, thank-you so much Pascal!


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