Another hearing from wonderful cellist Khamidullin, at St Andrew’s

Rustem Khamidullin (cello)

J.S. Bach: Suite no.3 in C for cello solo, BWV 1009
Gaspar Cassado: Suite for cello solo (1926)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 15 June 2016, 12.15pm

Obviously many of the people in the large audience at St. Andrew’s – perhaps most – had heard this brilliant young cellist play with Orchestra Wellington last Saturday night (I did not), and were delighted at the chance to hear him playing solo.

This amazing young man has just turned 27, but has the accomplishment of a much more experienced performer.  His was a demanding programme carried off with great musicality, but no flashiness or histrionics.  He comes from Ufa in Bashkortostan in Russia.  I have to confess that I had heard of Ufa, but not Bashkortostan; Wikipedia reveals that Ufa is a city of over a million people.  Rustem is the son of a pianist mother, and his grandfather was a leading cellist.

In addition to Rustem’s playing last Saturday and today, he is to play at Paekakariki on Sunday, and we have another cellist, Johannes Moser playing the Lalo cello concerto with the NZSO on Friday.  For lovers of this magnificent and versatile instrument, it is a feast.  Today’s music was all based on dance forms.

The Bach Suite is a necessary, but difficult, part of the cellist’s repertoire.  Throughout, this cellist produced a fine tone, and his interpretation was varied and not at all routine.  While he had the score in front of him, he only looked at it in a couple of the later movements; most of the work was played from memory, while for much of the time Rustem’s eyes were cast upwards.

Within the beautifully phrased music there was much subtlety of dynamics.  Mostly, one was not aware of the difficulties, such was the fluency and elegance of Rustem’s playing, not only in the phrasing, but also in the double-stopping, and the rapid bow movements between strings.  It goes without saying that this winner of the Gisborne International Music Competition (2014) and of numerous European prizes had impeccable intonation.

The rendition we heard of the dance movements (prélude, allemande, courante, sarabande, bourrée I and II and gigue) had colour, variety, delicacy and panache.  The sarabande was distinguished by rich and soulful playing, whereas the two bourrée movements had a light, playful touch.  The gigue was fast, despite all the challenges it presents.  The loud passages set  the strings ringing.  This was exemplary cello playing.  Rustem expressed Bach’s wonderful music like a seasoned professional; very impressive.

Gaspar Cassado (1897-1966) was a name I did not know.  He was a Catalan cellist and composer.  His suite was played from memory.  Naturally, it was more romantic than Bach’s music, but also, being twentieth century, was more daring harmonically.  Passages in the opening movement, Preludio-Fantasia based on  Zarabanda (yes, the Spanish origin of the word ‘Sarbande’) were played very high on the finger-board; the piece used the cello to the extent of its possibilities.  It was not technique for technique’s sake, though.  Much of the music was soulful, and almost always the tone was exquisite, although I found the number of times the lower strings slashed the finger-board rather excessive.  The use of harmonics created, as usual, an ethereal sound, but with this player, the tone of these notes was superb.  The playing shared with the Bach its intensity and variety.

The second movement, Sardana, was based on a Catalan round dance of that name (Google shows pictures of it being danced in the open) began very high-pitched, and indeed was very dance-like.  Considerable variation followed.  Nuances abounded.  There was rapid passage-work alternating with soft, pensive, melodic lines.

The third movement, Intermezzo y Danza Finál, was ‘a Jota…a waltz-like dance originating in Aragón’.  A strong opening was followed by pizzicato, then rapid fingering all over the fingerboard.  This is a virtuoso piece indeed, but Rustem was right up with its demands, which were sometimes extremely great.  Despite the numerous technical issues, it was always music that emerged.

A most appreciative and attentive audience heard a phenomenon; someone who is in for a big career.  We were glad to have heard such an outstanding artist at a lunchtime concert.


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