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Joanna MacGregor, RCS, Glasgow

HAS there been a more enthralling and enlightening musical experience offered in any medium in recent times than that unveiled on Friday by pianist Joanna MacGregor at the launch of Radio 3's Women In The Shadows, a four-concert series to be staged in the Royal Conservatoire?

The concept itself, as long as it avoids making cliched political points, is a sound one. Not much nowadays, but very much so in the past, the historical fact is that women composers, if they dared take up the art in the first instance, would spend their creative time on the sidelines, or out of sight.

On Friday, with a gentle, relaxed presentational touch, Joanna MacGregor, a superb storyteller (I didn't know that aspect of her art) led a succession of these women, through their music, out of the shadows into the light of performance. And what gleaming gems were revealed through MacGregor's magical playing. The Boulanger sisters were there, the legendary Nadia represented by her lyrical Improvisation No.1, along with her sister Lily, clearly a supreme talent to judge from the beautiful and quite individual harmonic colouring in three Morceaux.

The Americans were there, of course, with Amy Beach's Cradle Song (Brahmsian, but with a tang) and the atmospheric and highly-original Preludes by Ruth Crawford Seeger (Peggy's mother).

Buttressing these, weightlessly, were Sofia Gubaidulina's Musical Toys, 14 delicious aphorisms of musical characterisation, delivered in two bundles; while Charles Ives was the honorary man in the line up, with MacGregor, who played throughout with exceptional sensitivity, cutting loose on Ives's Beethoven-obsessed Walcotts movement from the Second Sonata. A voyage of discovery floated on spellbinding musicianship.


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