Review: Klaus Gesing, Gwilym Simcock

Klaus Gesing and Gwilym Simcock
(Wigmore Hall, June 2nd 2011. Photo Credit Em Baker/ Creative Commons)


An interviewer recently asked Jamie Cullum why he had chosen to alter the sonorities of the piano with a loop machine and beatboxing for his solo piano gig at the Cheltenham Festival. Cullum answered:

“If I was Gwilym Simcock I wouldn’t need it – but I’m not.”

Cullum isn't the only piano player who has that idea. Many others think it and echo it: put a piano in front of Simcock, and he'll be digging deeper, going further, getting more colours, textures, sonorities, patterns out of it.

As I marvelled at the piano sound last night in Simcock's duo concert with Klaus Gesing last night, I did wonder if the Wigmore Hall's Steinway might have had the full works this week, not just from a run-of-the-mill piano technician, but from the best whom Hamburg can offer. It's the Hall's 110th anniversary week. So perhaps, with two big gala concerts on the two previous nights, it might have had something special done to it?

Whatever, I don't think I've heard more totally nourishing piano sound anywhere. I don't mean that in the sense of it being bigger or fuller or more orchestral. Quite the opposite in fact. I noticed it in the quiet passages of a number like "Magister Ludi" by Gesing, doubly dedicated to Kenny Wheeler and Hermann Hesse's Glasperlenspiel. Simcock really came into his own when searching out the half-lights in his solos, and finding dappled shadows to surround Gesing's bass clarinet playing. And that's because Gesing on bass clarinet can sometimes suggest and imply rather than assert the presence of his sound. Simcock seemed to be finding exactly the right piano colours and textures to balance, jewel-case, support that sound.

Simcock and Gesing are good friends, who have what Simcock described to me recently as a "very similar musical hinterland," but this Wigmore Hall appearance was only their second outing. The first was in the new Glaeserne Saal/ Magna-Auditorium of the Musikverein in Vienna.

It's not simple music. The melodic lines are intricate, long. The rhythmic dovetailing, and matching and imitation, the canonic games of cat and mouse require proper listening.

I found myself in the first half in a seat directly behind someone with worrying bronchial issues. So my experience of Simcock and Gesing's subtle pianissimo interplay was getting regularly punctuated, and punctured by at least mezzoforte sniffing, sneezing and coughing.

A highlight of the first half was Gesing's langorous, romanticised version of Coltrane's Giant Steps, getting one back on the power-chopped macho Dutchmen he'd come across as a student in Holland. In the second, Gesing used the case of the Steinway, Simcock's sustain pedal down, as a resonance chamber in thefinal scheduled number, Simcock's "Northern Smiles," a performance which the audience greeted not just with sincere applause, but with some well-deserved whoops and cheers.

Gwilym Simcock will be on Jazz Library talking about Jaco Pastorius tomorrow at midnight.

2 comments:

  1. I dragged my reluctant husband all the way from Oxford to London, midweek to hear this - I'm a Simcock and Mehldau fan, he isn't into any type of modern-ish jazz - but he was completely bowled over by the sound and originality and interaction of two superb musicians who evidently enjoyed themselves as much as the audience. What a pity the Hall wasn't fuller! This was a performance to remember forever.

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  2. Thanks for that, anonymous. "Reluctant husband" could open to misinterpretation :)

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