Fine artistry and insight by Duo Cecilia, cello and piano duo

Duo Cecilia (Lucy Gijsbers – cello and Andrew Atkins – piano)

Beethoven: Seven Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ from The Magic Flute
Rachmaninov: Cello Sonata, Op 19, Third movement – Andante
Paul Ben-Haim: Canzona
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op 73
Debussy: Cello Sonata

St Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt

Wednesday 16 October, 12:15 pm

Lucy Gijsbers is in her master’s year and Andrew Atkins the third year of his B Mus at the New Zealand School of Music. Both have already distinguished themselves in competition and academic achievement. Lucy has played as soloist with orchestras as well as being principal cello in both the NZSM and the National Youth orchestras.

Each took turns introducing the pieces they played: both needed to be more aware of the need to properly project their voices. But they had little to learn about projecting the music they played. Their launching the recital with Beethoven’s delightful variations on ‘Bei Männern’ was a coup, as it offered the audience the chance to hear both their mastery of the notes, as well as expressive niceties. The opening was a display of darting, varied dynamics, changing with delightful aplomb from bar to bar.

The duo created the impression of playing the parts, each entirely engrossed in their own view of the music and what they were doing with it. Yet when I paid attention to the combined sound, the ensemble was excellent, listening to each other and responding to each other’s accents and turns of phrase; nothing uniformly bland.

The slow 6th variation revealed the players’ beautifully controlled tone with restrained vibrato, and the last variation announced the imminent ending by giving special emphasis to principal phrases.

On 4 October in the Adam Concert Room of the New Zealand School of Music I heard Inbal Megiddo and Jian Liu give an illuminating performance of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata. These players played the slow movement of it. To focus on a single movement is often a quite different experience: it opens with a long, seductive piano introduction, a beautiful melody, intensely meditative; Rachmaninov gives quite a lot of solo playing to the piano and that, far from seeming to obscure the cello’s significance, drew
increased attention to its more sparingly expressed contributions. Gijsber’s playing was exquisite.

Paul Ben-Haim was a leading Israeli composer of the earlier 20th century. The single movement, which I think Atkins said (both he and Lucy spoke too quietly) came from a cello concerto, which is listed in an internet site as having been written in 1962. It speaks in a coherent tonal language, though its character struck me as having emerged from the climate of the second half of the 20th century, as well as containing well integrated marks of Middle Eastern sounds. I’m not aware of hearing Ben-Haim’s music before and this induces me to explore.

Schumann’s three Fantasy Pieces, Op 73 are among the most played cello pieces; if played as they were here, by musicians who approach them with liveliness and without any sense of having to justify over-familiar music. They are delightful, spontaneous pieces, far from easy to bring off. Most effective were the charming narrative sense of the first movement, Zart und mit Ausdrück, and the third movement Rasch und mit Feuer which opened with almost frightening attack, typical Schumannesque impulsiveness with a calmer middle section where the cello called attention with her well-chosen stresses on certain notes at the top of phrases. The piano’s role was distinguished throughout the recital but seemed to rise to special heights in the formidable accompaniments of these pieces.

A couple of weeks earlier I’d heard Andrew Joyce and Diedre Irons play Debussy’s Cello Sonata in a Wellington Chamber Music concert and here it was again. Debussy told somebody that he was dissatisfied with the work, his second to last as he struggled with cancer during the First World War, but I doubt whether many of today’s listeners find it unsatisfying. It’s short and compressed and unsentimental; and while it’s a work that could hardly have been written a decade earlier, it does not pay direct attention to the radical innovations that the Schoenbergs and Stravinskys were introducing. These young players approached it as if they’d been living with it for years in their technical mastery and ease with the musical idiom, but judging by the spontaneity and freshness of the performance, it sounded as if they’d just discovered it.

Once again, here was evidence of the wealth of wonderful music-making to be enjoyed for free (or nearly) in many parts of greater Wellington.


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