St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert Series
Duo Cecilia: Lucy Gijsbers, cello; Andrew Atkins, piano
Prokofiev: Sonata for Cello and Piano in C major, Op.119 (1949)
Andante Grave, Moderato.
Beethoven: Sonata No.21 in C Major “Waldstein”: Allegro con brio
Liszt: Concert Etude in D flat major “Un sospiro”
Kapustin: Nearly Waltz Op.98 (1999)
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 25th March 2015
The first two movements of Prokofiev’s Op.119, chosen to start this programme, put Lucy Gijsbers straight into the limelight from the word go. The beautifully crafted phrases and full throated, rich sound she drew from the lower register of the cello in the opening solo bars showed immediately what an accomplished musician she is. Likewise as she moved up the register in the later reflective episodes, her tone was sweet and warm. The duo shaped the mood in those recurring sections with poetic sensitivity, working with one mind to craft the melodies. This made the contrast very effective when they attacked the allegro interludes with real vigour and a sense of the dramatic. But unfortunately, when the dynamic rose above forte, the pianist simply swamped the cello part. It was a mistake to attempt this work on full piano stick; worst of all it caused the sweeping dynamism and passion of the closing cello passagework to be swallowed up in a maelstrom of concert grand fortissimo. The same problem persisted in forte sections of the Moderato; but at other times the duo captured its lively, puckish mood very effectively, and provided a beautiful contrast in the slow melodic bars. Prokofiev’s startling false harmonics in the coda melody were superbly executed by Lucy Gijsbers – you could have heard a pin drop as the final notes evaporated into the barrel vault.
Andrew Atkins had clearly put a lot of work into the Beethoven movement, but I’m afraid I felt disappointed. That was because he seemed to interpret Beethoven’s direction of allegro con brio to mean “extra fast” allegro. But the term means simply “with spirit, energy, vigour”. The busy, repetitive opening idioms started too fast for clarity and the later cascading runs were further rushed in a number of places. The dramatic sweeping passagework that recurs throughout this movement was doubtless designed around Beethoven’s legendary skills at the keyboard. It requires crystal clear execution and nuance to express the melodic structure concealed in the subtle complexity. There is an amazing musical architecture in there that is all too readily lost in those huge handfuls of notes, and sadly that is what happened here. The Listz was better controlled in the opening piano section, but the fast centralforte section was again too hectic to come across satisfactorily.
Beethoven made a habit of spending time in the countryside, away from his keyboard and quill pen, throughout his life, and this somehow permeates his composition despite its extraordinary demands and complexity. Our local version may needs be the New Zealand bush, but every performer must somehow tap into this dimension, and this is what I hankered for here.
Kapustin’s Nearly Waltz for piano-cello duo opens with a disarming rhythm that alternates almost randomly between 5/4 and 3/4. The duo picked up on its lively whimsical mood with just the right touch, although later forteinterludes again suffered from too much piano volume. However, this capricious three minute gem was wrapped up with a delightful final phrase, finishing in high register with the music simply floating away……It was a great way to finish an interesting and varied programme that was clearly appreciated by the audience.
There are a couple of issues the duo needs to work on if they are to optimise their professional profile. Firstly, the programme information provided was far from satisfactory – only composers and titles were given; no opus numbers, keys, or movement designations. And secondly, an adequate assessment of a venue’s acoustics before each performance must surely go without saying. Every concert room is unique, and performers must play the acoustics just as they play their instruments. A failure to do so can lead to serious imbalance, and no professional musician wants to court that hazard.