Interesting recital of Romantic French music for cello and piano

Miranda Wilson (cello) and Rachel Thomson (piano)
Wellington Chamber Music Trust

Louise Farrenc: Sonata in B flat for piano and cello, Op.46
Lalo: Sonata in A minor for cello and piano
Chopin: Sonata in G minor for cello and piano, Op.65

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday, 15 July 2018, 3 pm

The first thing that struck me at this concert was not musical – it was pleasure at having a large-print programme!  Others, please copy, for those of us who find it hard to read the normal-sized print, especially in a darkened auditorium – which this wasn’t.  A further improvement in readability would be to use a different type-face; the fashionable sans-serif fonts do not pass readability tests s well as the ‘old-fashioned’ Times New Roman etc. fonts.

The first work played by the duo was by an unfamiliar name: Louise Farrenc (1804-1875).  The excellent programme notes by Miranda Wilson told us of this French woman, who was  a professor at the Paris Conservatoire as well as a composer, pianist, and music printer.  The numbering of the sonata, her opus 46 from 1859, reveals that she wrote a considerable quantity of music.

Strong playing opened the first movement (allegro moderato).  The music was melodious and, as the programme note said, it was largely rooted in classicism, despite its date.  It was in that tradition with the piano being to the fore, as reflected in the title, putting the cello after the piano.  However, this didn’t mean that the cello does not have plenty of lovely tunes to play.

Miranda Wilson threw herself at the music with energy and enthusiasm; her rapport and accord with pianist Rachel Thomson was exemplary.  (Apparently they played together as students at Victoria University, years ago.)  It was good to see Miranda back in her home city; she currently lives and teaches cello in the United States.

This was a worthwhile work to have unearthed for an all-French programme.  There were plenty of changes in mood through the movement, and lots of fast finger-work, especially for the pianist.

The andante sostenuto second movement was sober but straight-forward at the beginning.  A gorgeous singing tone was created by the cellist, who had more of the melody line here.  The mood was slightly melancholic – or maybe just nostalgic, before becoming briefly more joyful.

The finale of the three-movement sonata was marked allegro, and used some of the thematic material from the previous movement, decorated this time.  It became quite rollicking in places, with both players rushing all over the place, but the musical shape was always apparent.

Édouard Lalo’s music is largely known through his Symphonie Espagnol, but he wrote a considerable quantity of other music, including numbers of concertos.  This sonata was written three years before Farrenc’s sonata, but bears a much more noticeable Romantic character.  It features a very dramatic opening; the work brought the cello to the fore compared with the Farrenc.  There was more contrast and greater drama, plus a wider dynamic range.  Many bold statements were advanced, and the music was harmonically more adventurous.  (It’s inevitable to make comparisons with the dates of composition were so close.)  It was also a longer work.

The second movement (andante) gave opportunity for some sonorous playing from Miranda, in a long-drawn-out melody of a highly romantic nature, which was followed by very robust passages, then rippling piano figures over a pedal point on the cello.  In this it was similar to a passage in the Farrenc work.

Such was the apparent ease of execution by these two musicians, one could think they had been playing this music together for a long time, which is obviously not possible with one in New Zealand and the other in the USA.

The allegro finale had plenty of variety.  There were delightful pizzicato motifs on the cello, matching staccato on the piano, and the work ended with a grand statement.  I did miss beauty of tone through some of this piece.  Factors that may have had a bearing on this were firstly, the very bright acoustic in St. Andrew’s church and the fact that the piano lid was on the long stick, and also the circumstance that Miranda Wilson was playing a borrowed cello.

We turned to the pure Romantic now, with Chopin’s sonata, a more familiar work.  The allegro moderato first movement was decidedly romantic in idiom.  Here I found the tone a little too abrasive for the idiom.  The sound was usually quite loud, even in a venue full of people’s sound-absorbing bodies.  However, the accuracy of the notes was impeccable.  The pianist’s part was notable for many cascades up and down the keyboard.

The scherzo second movement was jaunty, lively, and varied.  It was followed by a peaceful largo movement.  Here we had euphonious cello and delicate, melodic piano.  The music’s tranquil mood grew slowly.  Here was some of the most mellow cello sound of the concert, in long, elegant, well-rounded phrases.

It was a short movement, so we were soon into the allegro finale.  It developed themes from the slow movement, but the pace was faster, of course; it was very busy.  This work was written in 1846, so prior to the two works in the first half of the programme, but it was very much more the Romantic piece.  Lilting moments there were, in between the rushing gaiety around them.  Chords from the cello were somewhat brutal, but made an emphatic end to an interesting concert of fine music played by accomplished performers.


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