Cello and piano recital at St Andrew’s series

Paul Mitchell (cello) and Richard Mapp (piano)

Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op.73
Ernest Bloch: From Jewish Life
Samuel Barber: Sonata for cello and piano, Op.6

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Thursday, 18 March, 12.15pm

I must admit to being rather tired of the Schumann work; it is played so often, particularly on violin or clarinet.  Because of this, it no longer feels like a fantasy.  However, the playing of these performers redeemed the work somewhat.  A lovely warm, yet ringing tone from the cellist, plus perfect balance and ensemble characterised their performance.

Because I was unable to be at the recital either for its opening or its closing, I interpolate here a paragraph from Peter Mechen:
In the Schumann I didn’t quite get the “perfect balance” impression from where I was sitting (closer to the piano, perhaps – and the Bloch and Barber pieces were far better – see below) – I recently heard a performance of the Schumann in its viola-and-piano transcription, which had the effect of “lifting” the music out of its somewhat sombre-coloured world – the piece is problematical for the ‘cello and piano combination, because there’s a tendency (as here) for the ‘cellist’s tones to be covered in the figurations, especially if the player (also, as here) in the interests of poetry plays with some reticence. The players captured nicely the “wind-blown” tones of the second piece, with plenty of detailed phrasing and dynamic shading – occasionally I thought the cellist’s intonation a shade uncomfortable at the upper-end of his register, something which was evident at moments throughout the finale as well. So, modified rapture from me for the first item – I was struck by the difference in Paul Mitchell’s whole approach to the Bloch work – suddenly the ‘cello was “singing out” like I didn’t find in the Schumann at the beginning of the programme.

Ernest Bloch’s work had both emotional content and eloquence, as the excellent programme notes said.  The music produced gorgeous sonorities from the players.  The Hebrew cadences and inflections gave a character that was most affecting; quite different from the drawing-room aesthetic of the Schumann pieces.

At times the music was reminiscent of Middle Eastern music; although Jewish, Bloch lived entirely in Europe and the United States.  In the final of the work’s three movements, ‘Jewish Song’, the cellist obtained an almost moaning sound from his instrument.

Equally interesting was the Barber sonata, written in 1932.  Barber eschewed the tonal system of Schoenberg and his disciples.  However, though written in a traditional tonal language, the sonata is in no way an imitation of earlier composers, any more than Richard Strauss’s music is.  For a work written by a 22-year-old, this was a mature and assured piece of writing indeed.

The sonata was full of delights, inventiveness and contrasts.

Here Peter Mechen continues:
I really enjoyed the Samuel Barber work – I loved the way the music grew from out of the depths at the beginning, and blossomed into great surgings of tone from both instruments – very involving and expressive! The first movement traverses a lot of ground, it seems, full-blooded episodes following moments of touching introspection, bringing forth playing from both musicians that was focused and assured, the movement gradually yielding its ghost up to a murmuring silence. The players brought off the adagio/presto-adagio middle movement with great elan, full-breathed lines at the beginning, quixotic and energetic in the middle section, then some wonderful “digging into” the opening mood’s return at the end. Richard Mapp brought off the appassionato piano-only opening of the last movement with great energy, the cellist replying in kind; an exchange whose involvement carried us through a somewhat fragmented, volatile structure, and engaged our interest strongly, tapping into the work’s youthful whole-heartedness, and making it work. Generously, Paul Mitchell and Richard Mapp gave us a transcription of a Barber song as an encore, “Sure on this Shining Night”, its meditative loveliness bringing the concert to a satisfying close.

Rosemary Collier’s final words:
Mapp was an exemplary partner to the cellist: always ‘on the ball’ and subtly balancing the dynamics and interpretation of Paul Mitchell.

It was great to hear a solo cello.  How seldom we hear this sort of music live!   In a past era, the old Broadcasting Corporation’s Concert Section used to promote recitals by visiting soloists who were here to perform with the symphony orchestra.  One might hope for more such sonatas to be included in programmes presented by quartets, trios etc. touring for Chamber Music New Zealand, or performing for the Wellington Chamber Music Society.

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