RETURNING to Yorkshire after her 1988 success at the Leeds International Piano Competition, concert pianist Noriko Ogawa took us through piano music by four composers who have explored the boundaries of this instrument’s capabilities. Spirits were also high as the British Music Society of York dedicated the evening to long-time president, Francis Jackson, whose 100th birthday fell last month.

The first half was all about imagery. Having made her mark as a leading interpreter of Debussy’s music, Ogawa guided the audience in traversing the various harmonic pathways in Arabesques No. 1, Clair de lune, Estampes and Images. A clear-headed expression of the visual behaviours of light and water shaped these motions.

From Japan, Takemitsu’s French-inspired Rain Tree Sketch II continued the visual theme, breaking up the Debussy pieces. Contrasts between sustained notes and cluster chords invited comparison to rainwater that builds and eventually falls.

In the second half, Ogawa also showed off the stomping march of Illuminated Baby by the young Japanese composer, Akiki Yamane. It was the monumental Sonata in B minor by Franz Liszt, however, that left us in no doubt of the standard. Played without a break, the attentiveness to different moods, combined with sheer virtuosity, realised the epic proportions of this work.

A lack of arbitrary boundaries between performer and audience often makes for a musically fulfilling and convivial evening. Combined with top-drawer music, this quality helps make BMS concerts really rather special.

Review by Owen Burton