Inbal Megiddo – cello and Diedre Irons – piano
Shostakovich: Cello Sonata, Op 40; Brahms’s Piano Trio No 1 in B Major, Op 8 – first movement, with Martin Riseley (violin); Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Op 73; Popper: Hungarian Rhapsody
Hunter Council Chamber, Victoria University
Wednesday 27 October, 7pm
A century ago, perhaps, a player with the talent of Inbal Megiddo would have been a household name by now – she’s 33 and her early career was phenomenal. She was born in Israel and is now resident in the United States. Picking up on the example of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, her regular recital accompanist is Palestinian Saleem Abboud Ashkar.
After a prodigious rise to youthful eminence, however, her career has settled into something a little short of that of an international star; she appears to have played with none of the top symphony orchestras, and has recorded with none of the major labels. Yet she has played at the Lincoln Centre and at Carnegie Hall, New York, and in the Kennedy Center in Washington. She played recently with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and in recital at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin; with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, and with the Lithuanian Philharmonic Society. She has toured and recorded with The Yale Cellos and recorded with the Yale Philharmonia.
That famous orchestras do not feature on her CV is much more a commentary on the bewildering numbers of brilliantly gifted musicians competing in a frighteningly crowded profession, than on her musicianship.
For the evidence offered at this recital at Victoria University was of a mature cellist whose technical prowess, in Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody for example, is prodigious, and whose interpretive powers are guided by a profound feeling for the composers’ nature and intentions.
Shostakovich’s only cello sonata makes huge demands of both technical and intellectual resources, even though a relatively early piece; yet it seems not to be unified by a particularly coherent structure: the normal disparate character of the four movements are without the feeling that they are inevitably parts of a whole.
The performance, by both pianist and cellist, was full of dramatic variety, thrusting and energetic, agitated at the start and melodious later in the first movement; particularly arresting was the music’s rallentando and transformation into a sort of intermezzo before the second movement starts. Again, in this triple-time Allegro, the sense of unity between the instruments, supported by Diedre Irons’s astringent piano and the big robust sound of the cello with its ostinato motifs, was a hard-hitting experience. The Largo was the main opportunity to enjoy Megiddo’s rapturous, deeply expressive playing, particularly as the movement ended in beautiful calm, and she repeatedly sought out Diedre Irons’s eyes to ensure an ideal rapport.
One has always to regret the truncating of great music, and even if Brahms’s first piano trio, its first version written aged 20, is not one of his greatest works, the end of the first movement left us up in the air, waiting for the staccato, mephisto-dance of the Scherzo. But that wasn’t the main problem.
Martin Riseley, the head of string studies at the school of music, took the violin part; perhaps I was not sitting in an ideal position, but the balance of the three instruments was defective. Riseley’s sound was not the equal of either cello or piano, though when I made an effort to exclude the other instruments, his playing was unexceptionable, even if not as voluptuous as it is in my head.
My colleague Rosemary Collier recently lamented the frequency with which cellists put Schumann’s Fantasiestücke in their programmes. Though I have a special love of Schumann and also of the cello, I have to agree. There were dozens of pieces in her repertoire, to be seen on her website, that I’d have been delighted to hear. The duo made a nice job of the Schumann, but it was not a highlight.
David Popper is one of those composers known mainly to cellists, for that was the tool of his fame in the late 19th century. His Hungarian Rhapsody, drawn from several of Liszt’s eponymous pieces, was great fun as well as the predictable opportunity to demonstrate a lot of hair-raising pyrotechnics, brilliantly supported by the pianist whose task was hardly diminished as a result of the limelight being removed from her.