Maki Namekawa, New Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Catherine Robb

4 Stars

Imagine a montage from a film in which the main character searches inquisitively, desperately, longingly, for something significant. There will be moments of false hope, wrong turns, near successes, and doubtful questioning.

But ultimately, even though our protagonist was very close to it, the desired object is not found, and we are left deflated, drained from the tension and suspense.

Philip Glass’s two books of piano etudes would act as the most appropriate soundtrack to our character’s pursuits, with its searching harmonies twisting and turning mysteriously into expected and unexpected modulations, and its driving, intricate rhythmic force.

The first book begins bright and bell-like, signalling an unrelenting, hopeful beginning, whilst the last etude of the second book ends with a more resigned and reflective four-note, minor key motif.

Perhaps it is because Glass wrote these etudes with the intention of expressing his own musical journey – the first book exploring the limits of his playing technique, the second inquiring into the nature of musical language itself – that there is real and almost tangible sense that we are being drawn into a musical search.

And under the helm of pianist Maki Namekawa, what an evocative, beautiful search it was. Namekawa found a way to soften the unrelentingly repetitive rhythmic moments, hinting at their quirky playfulness.

The most fervent technical passages were subtly contained to showcase her unfaltering technique, with scales and arpeggios flying off the keyboard, but only to serve the overall shape of the music.

But it was during the quieter, softer etudes where Namekawa’s alluring touch came through most, allowing the harmonic suspensions and rich bass notes to delicately meander, yet still keeping hold of the music’s dynamic energy.