Fine cello and piano lunchtime recital at St Mark’s, Lower Hutt

Haydn: Cello concerto no. 1 in C Hob. VIIb:1 (1st movement)
Haydn: Piano sonata Hob. XVI: 48 (1st  movement; Andante con espressione)
Prokofiev: Sonata for cello & piano

Lucy Gijsbers, cello, Andrew Atkins (piano)

St. Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, 12 August 2015, 12.15pm

The concert was dedicated by the performers to the memory of noted Wellington luthier Ian Lyons, who died suddenly, recently.

These are two first-class musicians who play so well in combination.  Pianist Atkins did well trying to be an orchestra in the opening work, while Lucy Gijsbers’s playing was quite lovely and of professional standard.  She gained a most warm and attractive tone from her instrument in all parts of its wide range.  Those flying, flexible fingers made the most of every note.

Her cello almost talked to the audience.  It is to be hoped that Lucy Gijsbers gets a chance to play this work with an orchestra.  Her variety of tone was impressive, and the double-stopping in various places through the work was expertly executed; the cadenza was brilliant.

The piano could have done with more tonal and dynamic variation, and more careful phrasing.  A few wrong notes were excusable in the context.

Next was a movement from one of the same composer’s piano sonatas.  Now we had variation of touch and tone, subtlety and variety of dynamics.  Andrew Atkins gave full expression to a delightful work.  He reminded me in appearance of a young pianist I heard years ago in Turku, Finland.  However, he did not repeat that gentleman’s extravagant gestures, but the quality of his playing was equivalent.

Of course, Haydn would probably be surprised to hear the modern piano, with its greater variety of tonal colours.

The cello returned for the Prokofiev sonata.  It opens with gorgeous deep notes on the cello, then the piano follows with dramatic chords, after which the mood lightens somewhat: strumming on the cello, and lighter piano writing; the instruments balanced well.  Musical ideas were worked out in a most satisfying way, with the two players in great accord.  Lucy Gijsbers seldom looked at the music score in front of her, such was her mastery of the music.  There were impressive pianissimos, along with tenderness of expression.

The second movement opened with simple piano chords, and pizzicato on the cello. Spiky rhythms featured, with notes darting here and there.  Then the music became lyrical; the warmth of cello tone conveyed the lyrical character well.  The music turned playful again, the cello played harmonics, then there was a pizzicato final flourish.

The third movement opened in dance-like character, then became more dramatic – surely a Russian dance.  A return to flowing lines on the cello followed, and illustrated Lucy Gijsbers’s command of her instrument, in all its wondrous variety of charm and drama.  Prokofiev certainly gave full rein to all the possibilities of the cello, possibilities which this player fully rose to.  The piano part was also very demanding, and Atkins met those demands.

I see that, under the name Duo Cecilia, these two musicians played in a lunchtime concert at St. Andrew’s on The Terrace in March this year.  My colleague Frances Robinson had some words to say about the piano swamping the cello in parts of the Prokofiev work (the only one to appear in both programmes), and the need to be sure of the acoustics in which one is playing.  I was surprised at the piano lid being on the long stick at St. Mark’s, but for the most part this was not a problem in this
less resonant venue – and perhaps the earlier experience has caused the players to judge more carefully the acoustics in which they are performing.

This was a highly skilled recital from two fine musicians.  They gave full measure, and the audience heartily appreciated what they had heard.


20th century music from charming flute duo: Bridget Douglas and Rachel Thomson

Bridget Douglas (flute) and Rachel Thomson (piano)

Messiaen: Le merle noir
John Ritchie: The Snow Goose
Jack Body: Rainforest (2006) – Movement 2 – ‘Returning from a hunt’, and movement 3 – ‘Lullaby’
Gaubert: Sonata No 1 for flute and piano

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 12 August, 12:15 pm

According to Bridget Douglas’s programme note, Le merle noir was the only piece that Messiaen wrote for the solo flute, which seems extraordinary in the light of his passion for bird song for which the uninitiated would imagine the flute to be the commonest, closest instrument to the sounds of many birds. I know I’ve heard it played live before but had only a sketchy recollection of it.

It starts in a fairly raucous manner, suggesting our tui more than any other bird with which I’m familiar in New Zealand, though the music quickly becomes more calm. It was a careful and beautiful performance by both instruments.

Next was a small narrative piece by Christchurch composer John Ritchie, The Snow Goose, a once very popular story by Paul Gallico, about the loyalty of the bird that escorted one of the thousands of small boats that helped in the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk in 1940.

The piece, originally written with orchestral accompaniment, is an uneasy, thoughtful piece that was suggestive rather than explicit about the story, using the flute, naturally, to depict the bird. The piece was played at a St Andrew’s concert on 29 April by Ingrid Culliford and Kris Zuelicke.

I rather expected the piano to describe other elements of the story such as the war and the sea, but the piano is little more than a sensitive accompaniment, often echoing the flute’s melodic hints. The two, as always, formed a particularly charming partnership. You will find on You-Tube, surprisingly I thought, a performance of the piece by Carol Hohauser and pianist Barbara Lee, made in a concert in New Jersey; it expressed its simply beauties, but just quietly, I think we heard a more persuasive account at St Andrew’s.

Bridget Douglas picked up her big alto flute to play Jack Body’s 2006 composition, Rainforest – the second and third movements. Rachel talked about Jack Body’s requirement to place a chain across the piano strings, finding the effect unattractive, and settled in the end for a very delicate necklace. I could not detect anything of its effect on the sound. The music was based on recordings of music from the Central African Republic and was originally scored for flute and harp, for Flight, comprising this flutist and harpist Carolyn Mills.

The second movement, ‘Returning from a hunt’, began with a jaunty motif, flute and piano taking different paths, though the one was clearly necessary to the other. The third movement, ‘Lullaby 1’, according to the notes, ‘sounds unexpectedly restless to western ears’; not conducive to sleep, I thought, but sounding more like a complex dance.

Philippe Gaubert followed in the footsteps of the great flutist Paul Taffanel, became professor of flute at the Paris Conservatoire and later, conductor of the Paris Opera. His sonata was a charming, lyrical piece, probably difficult enough technically; though structurally conventional, with lively outer movements and a slow, Lent, middle movement, there was nothing bland or commonplace in the music, and it was given the sort of serious, committed performance that would be appropriate for a much more heavy-weight piece.

We noted back in May the frequency of recitals involving the flute. And having missed reviewing a recital by Karen Batten and Rachel Thomson on 24 June, here was another very fine exhibition of the instrument’s versatility and charm.