Lunchtime at Adam Concert Room
(New Zealand School of Music)
Inbal Megiddo (cello) and Diedre Irons (piano)
Beethoven: Cello Sonata No 4 in C, Op 102 No 1
Brahms: Cello Sonata No 2 in F minor, Op 99
Adam Concert Room, Victoria University
Friday 18 September, 12:10 pm
In earlier days the university’s lunchtime concerts were on Thursdays, both when I was a student a century ago and when I started reviewing for the Evening Post in the 1980s. It was more convenient for me as for many years Fridays have been proscribed and I have rarely managed to get to them.
The chance to hear cello sonatas by Beethoven and Brahms was too hard to resist however, and I made a momentous alteration to my life to be there.
In his sonata in C, Beethoven takes his usual liberties with the conventional forms that had guided his predecessors. It is unusual in its shape: just two movements, each with a slow introduction leading to an Allegro vivace, each of seven to eight minutes duration. Yet both the Allegro sections, though short, follow reasonably normal sonata form.
Inbal Megiddo opened gently, finding the sort of nasal quality of the D rather than the A string (not that I could see her bowing), which matched the thoughtful character of the melody with its unusual octave leap in the middle; and the two players at once announced themselves as strikingly sympathetic, both with the music and each other: though the piano lid was on the long stick, the cello’s voice was always equal to whatever the piano was doing.
The Andante is only about 3 minutes long and so never suggested a merely brief first movement, establishing its own, perfectly congenial coherence, and it fell silent at just the right moment. The contrast, as the main part of the movement began, was perhaps a little too assertive, rather than simply sanguine. It too is quite short.
The prelude to second movement, Adagio, can be recognised early as a sort of variation on the main theme of the Andante, with its rising octave interval and its improvisatory feeling. The Allegro vivace then begins playfully and it character was illuminated with great confidence and conviction by both instruments. Beethoven’s teasing wit is never far away. There are the odd pauses and the precipitate ending, into all of which both pianist and cellist entered wholeheartedly.
The Brahms sonata in some ways shows greater respect for the classical tradition, even though adopting a more lyrical and romantic tone. And the duo seemed to relish the chance to dig into the big romantic melodies and the denser, almost orchestral textures. Brahms seemed to take pleasure in the warm and deep bass notes – pedal notes – from the cello: one wonders whether those moments hark back to his father’s sounds as double bassist with the Hamburg opera orchestra. The cello’s pizzicato passages in the Adagio were deliberate, even a bit inert, but the general rhapsodic feeling produced a lovely performance.
In the third movement, Allegro passionato, acting as a Scherzo I suppose, Megiddo’s forceful and energetic style set the tone, somewhat at the expense of the beautiful; the beautiful was confined to the middle section which did indeed offer a heart-felt respite. The last movement is one of those rich, Brahmsian creations, where, as I noted above, orchestral sound is close by. The playing by both, obviously in wonderful sympathy with the composer’s aesthetic, fulfilled every Brahms-lover’s expectations.
I was pleased to see a good audience in the Adam Concert Room.
A few years ago, this venue presented serious accessibility problems, with virtually no parking weekdays and infrequent buses. Bus timetables during term-time are now good (non-term-time, still hopeless). I travelled by train and bus from Tawa to Kelburn Parade in about 35 minutes.
So it’s a concert venue that deserves the attention of all serious music lovers with a bit of flexible time at midday.