Utrecht Early Music Festival 2016 part 23: Masako Awaji

The two volunteers welcoming everybody at RASA told us we were not going to hear the fringe concert for which we had come. The duo Double Entendre had had to cancel at the last moment, due to sad family circumstances. So there was not going to be a concert with two harpsichords and works by Vivaldi, Mozart, le Roux .

20160828 Venetian Portraits 008The organisation had found fringe performer Masako Awaji available and willing to replace Double Entendre. So the concert would be harpsichord music, but with different works.

A few people who heard this, left the queue. They had heard Masako Awaji play a day earlier. With four other fringe concerts to chose from, as well as the final of the international van Wassenaer Concours taking place and the Early Music instrument market opening at 10:00, there were plenty alternatives.

Not having heard Masako Awaji play during this festival yet, I opted to remain. I was not disappointed: the audience was treated to a brilliant performance. She started her concert with a toccata by Matthias Weckmann. After this work, she gave a very good introduction to her program and composers. Instead of works by Vivaldi, Mozart, and le Roux, she played Weckmann as a kind of warm-up, after which she continued with works by two composers who were contemporaries, but used different styles, though both influenced by Italian contemporary music and developments. .

20160903 Harpsichord used by Masako Awaji

Harpsichord used by Masako Awaji with a work by Bach on show.

Masako Awaji first played pieces by Rameau. As she explained, he got his inspiration from Greek myths and focused on interpreting emotions in his works. The pieces illustrated the Italian style adapted to the French court. With a good view of Masako Awaji’s hands, I noticed these pieces were technically quite taxing. These were pieces written to impress and show off the technical skills of harpsichord players and bowl over a perhaps rather jaded courtly audience which must have been used to hearing the best performers attracted to the French royal court. The pieces were performed nearly perfectly.

Rameau’s style and works certainly differed from the pieces Masako Awaji played next. She performed Partitia nr 2 by Johann Sebastian Bach. As she had pointed out in her quite nice introduction, the contrast to contemporaries Rameau and Bach were impressive. Not only in style and inspiration, but of course also in very different compositions and challenges solved.

Bach was of course also influenced by the Italian style and especially interested in Vivaldi, but adapted Italian music to suit his taste and meet challenges in a different way. The Sarabande and Capriccio certainly showed temperament, but it is all rather Northern European. One might say that where Rameau is extrovert, brittle, brilliant and all about showing off, Bach is more subtle, introspective, thoughtful and harpsichord players are challenged in quite a different manner. Of course, Masako Awaji performed Bach as excellently as Rameau.

Her introduction, including addressing the public in Dutch before switching to English, had already charmed her public. Her performance ensured, she was not allowed to leave things with Weckmann, Rameau, Bach. The public demanded an encore, but was treated to something quite differently. Masako Awaji stated she had studied a lot of Bach during the summer. His works had inspired her to experiment and improvise using his works. So she played two improvisations, inspired by works by Bach.

It would not surprise me, if Masako Awaji will either be awarded this year’s “Publieksprijs” or become one of the Early Music Festival’s future artists in residence.

Masako Awaji played

Matthias Weckmann: Toccata IV in A
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Pièces de Clavencin: Les tenders plaints, Les cyclopes, La dauphine
Johann Sebastian Bach : Partitia nr 2 in C BWV 826 : Sinfonia, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Rondeaux, Capriccio
as well as own improvisations based on works by Bach.
Masako Awaji also is one of the members of the Early Music Festival’s fringe trio La Petite Aurore.




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