Music review: Jess Gillam & Zaynep Özsuca, Perth Concert Hall

Saxophonist Gillam and pianist Zaynep Özsuca were on effervescent form for their recital as part of Live and Unlocked, Perth Concert Hall’s series of midday concerts for socially distanced audiences

Jess Gillam

Live and Unlocked: Jess Gillam & Zaynep Özsuca, Perth Concert Hall ****

Jess Gillam is a breath of fresh air, as is this week’s entire Live and Unlocked series of midday concerts at Perth Concert Hall, the first venue in Scotland to welcome back live classical music audiences since the recent relaxation of Covid restrictions, albeit limited to 100 souls socially-distanced around the 1,100-seater auditorium. Those lucky enough to get a ticket for Thursday’s third daily recital – all four are being broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 – were treated to an eclectic lunchtime offering from effervescent saxophonist Gillam and pianist Zaynep Özsuca, with Radio 3’s Ian Skelly on the sidelines as presenter.

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Inevitably, many of the works were arrangements, even such a substantial opener as Poulenc’s late Sonata for Oboe and Piano, which acquires a tangier flavour from the courser timbre of the soprano sax. Gillam’s supreme control, no better illustrated than in the emerging solitary opening note, ensured much of the music’s sweetness – if not quite all of it – was preserved. Yet she introduced a sassy edge to the hyperactive Elégie, a dizzy world of opposites – wildness versus sensuality – in the Scherzo, and an added pungency in the closing Déploration. It’s an intriguingly reimagined work in this instrumentation.

Gillam continued briefly alone with the airy Early Morning Melody by Meredith Monk, morphing smoothly into Luke Howard’s Dappled Light, its oscillating chords and breathy piano harmonies evoking an impressionistic luminosity before the irrepressible moto perpetuo of Graham Fitkin’s Gate.

The quiet simplicity of Dowland’s Flow My Tears – every bit as relevant on saxophone as when given modern ballad treatment by Sting some years back – was effective preparation for Kurt Weill’s sultry Je ne t’aime pas, Gillam and Özsuca savouring its opulent surges of Weimar decadence.

Astor Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango, a musical tour of its development from Argentine bordello to modern dance hall, produced a voluptuous finale. Özsuca’s additional percussive riffs on the piano lid extinguished the concert hall formality, and the pair’s sensuous and perfectly synchronised bending of the tempi was just as if they were perfectly entwined on the dance floor.

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