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.


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