Even those tentatively interested in classical music can’t be unfamiliar with Joanna MacGregor: a dreadlocked pianist famed for her virtuoso playing, funky style and for collaborations with the likes of Nitin Sawhney and the Britten Sinfonia. For this solo recital in the Cathedral’s Lady Chapel as part of the Lichfield Festival, the dreadlocks were gone, but the spirit was still very much in evidence as MacGregor attacked a beautifully constructed programme beginning with a sequence of pieces by Bach and Shostakovich.
As the evening light streamed into the Lady Chapel, MacGregor explored the synergy between the two composers, weaving a delicate series of Bach Preludes and Fugues with excerpts from Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues. This was followed by Chopin’s Five Mazurkas: attractive pieces whose intimacy perfectly suited the space.
But if this gentle opening showcased her intelligence, the second half was a musical grenade thrown, thrillingly, into the audience, as MacGregor let rip on a series of jazzy pieces, the Lady Chapel’s architecture now lit up with vivid purple and pink lights.
Samuel Barber’s Excursions Op.20 – a sprightly slice of Americana – was the perfect match for MacGregor’s style, cycling through the jazzy rhythms of Un Poco Allegro to the sassy In Slow Blues Tempo to the rip-roaring barn-dance finale. Bringing the evening to a close, MacGregor played her own arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s Six Tangos: a glorious finale, full of hot-blooded tunes and urgent, driving rhythms.
Although always fiercely in control of her material, MacGregor is an energetic artist whose work is witty, joyous and never, ever dull.