Cello and piano at Jewish Community Centre

Bach: Sonata in G, BWV 1027;
Kodaly: Sonatina for cello and piano
Bloch: From Jewish Life and Méditation Hébraïque;
Debussy: Sonata for cello and piano;
Martinu: Sonata no.2 for cello and piano;
Piazzolla: Libertango

Paul Mitchell (cello), Richard Mapp (piano)

Myers Hall, Jewish Community Centre, Webb Street

Sunday, 17 July 2011, 3pm

Myers Hall was a new venue to many of us at the concert on Sunday; it proved to be of a good size for a chamber music concert, and with its wooden parquet floor and high ceiling, its acoustics were very satisfactory.

However, if it were to be used more regularly for concerts, a better piano would be required. At times I thought the elderly Marshall and Rose baby grand to be out of tune, but it may just have been its age that made it sound oddly at times, particularly in the Bach. Richard Mapp played with appropriate style and technique for the baroque music (the instrument often almost sounding like a harpsichord), in contrast to his full-bodied playing of the other works, but the former manner of playing seemed to emphasise the piano’s difficulties.

Having just heard a radio talk about recorded Bach works, that made a comparison between performances that were ‘straight’ and those where the performer(s) introduced some individuality to the interpretation, I was delighted to hear the nuances, especially of dynamics, that these musicians brought to their performance of the Bach composition. It was a very satisfying performance; after the third movement’s logical, peaceful nature, the allegro finale was played with great panache. In my head I hear my pianist/organist mother saying (as she does on a private recording I have) ‘The piano does not bring out the notes of the tune as does the organ or the clavichord’. Mapp defied this dictum pretty successfully.

Apart from the Debussy sonata, the remaining works on the programme were not familiar to me. It was a pleasure and interesting to hear so much music that is seldom played, not least the Kodaly sonatina. After a lovely piano introduction, there was much lyrical music, and strong playing from both musicians, providing a complete contrast with the Bach work.

Bloch’s From Jewish Life is in three sections. The first, ‘Prayer’, was very beautiful. The piano starts by just playing chords while the cello plays melody, then a different piano theme that echoes and balances the cello one enters. In the second part, ‘Supplication’, one could almost hear the cello uttering words, since the melody followed very much the inflections and rhythms of language. Finally, ‘Jewish Song’ had a very spare and Middle-Eastern-sounding tonality. There was a plaintive quality to it, and it was very sensitively played. Again, it was a great contrast with the Bach sonata. This was passionate music. The full tone from the cello was very fine.

Paul Mitchell gave spoken introductions some of the items. He said that he thought that the Debussy sonata was more Spanish than French in character. Certainly the first movement has a very rhythmic piano part, which is dominant, then the cello reasserts itself. Then there are passages of great delicacy, played with feeling and finesse.

The second movement (Serenade) features lots of pizzicato on the cello and staccato on piano. It is full of character – and it was given characterful playing. The finale, which follows without a break, had the instruments swapping notes and dynamics with each other, followed by a strong, assertive ending. As the programme notes stated, it was more spirited, and had elements of folk-song. This was a thoroughly convincing performance.

The Méditation Hébraïque of Ernest Bloch starts quietly and lyrically, with a repeated bass note on the piano. The central section, especially passionate on the cello, embroiders a pentatonic theme, and then the music dies away quite dramatically.

The most substantial work on the programme was Martinu’s sonata. A fiery allegro with difficult passage work admirably executed by both performers began this 1941 composition. There was a long section for piano only, as there was in the second movement (largo) also. This movement ended very calmly, with a sad undertone.

The allegro commodo (comfortable) finale was very fast, with repetitive figures on the piano which would have pleased the minimalists. Both cello and piano parts were very energetic and spirited. A cello cadenza was complex and demanding, to end this dynamic and exciting work.

The Piazzolla ‘free tango’ was fast, but good-tempered. There was much upper fingerboard work for the cellist, and off-beat rhythms abounded.

A good-sized audience heard two performers who played with superb technique and musical sensitivity – and Mapp was blessed with a skilful page-turner.

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