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REVIEW: Mariko Brown and Julian Jacobson (piano duet), St John’s Smith Square, London

30 June 2014

Mariko Brown and Julian Jacobson (piano duet)
St John’s, Smith Square, London
5 June

The chief interest in Mariko Brown’s and Julian Jacobson’s lunchtime concert in St John’s in early June was the first performance of Jacobson’s transcription of Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody, also known as the Rhapsody in Rivets, initially for piano and orchestra. Gershwin wrote it in 1931 to accompany a sequence in the film Delicious, where it was severely truncated to fit the action.

It has hardly fared better since: given that Gershwin felt that ‘it is the best thing I have written’, it’s astonishing that the only published version is a re-orchestration by a staff arranger. Julian Jacobson therefore used Gershwin’s manuscript to  prepare his four-hand version, which was revelatory. Shorn of its (inauthentic) orchestral colours, its true place in the modernist current can be heard: echoes of Prokofiev and Ravel are clear, for instance, as is a reference to The Rite of Spring. Most excitingly of all, it pointed the way to a subtle and original harmonic world – which Gershwin, of course, never lived to explore more fully. Brown and Jacobson brought a tingle of excitement to it, as if aware they were looking into the unknown; with further performances, it will pick up contrast and colours of its own. It is a major addition to the four-hand repertoire.

The other novelty, sandwiched between a thoughtful Schubert F minor Fantasie and two witty transcriptions by Lucien Garban from Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, was Mariko Brown’s own Travels through a Mist of Chinese Mountains, a 17-minute tone-poem as atmospheric as a shanshui watercolour, clear-textured, inventive in its use of the instrument, and retaining a sense of mystery despite its range of moods.

Martin Anderson

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