Two less familiar cello masterpieces from Lavinnia Rae and Gabriela Glapska at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

Lavinnia Rae (cello) and Gabriela Glapska (piano)

Beethoven: Cello Sonata No 5 in D, Op 102 No 2
Britten: Cello Sonata in C, Op 65 (movements 1, 3, 4, 5)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Thursday 30 July, 12:15 pm

Although this recital offered a good opportunity to hear two significant cello sonatas, not often played, the audience at St Andrew’s was a lot smaller than it had been for New Zealand School of Music vocal students the day before. Two lunchtime concerts a week might seem excessive; no doubt it’s an effort to meet the expectations of players whose concerts were scheduled in the months of silence: it’s a shame if audiences don’t respond to these free concerts by being as generous with their time as the musicians themselves are.

The players
Gabriela Glapska has been heard recently with the Ghost Trio at St Andrew’s and later at the Adam Concert Room at Victoria University. She’s also been involved in recent months in concerts by the SMP Ensemble and Stroma, as well as other ensembles and in an accompanying role. She was prominent in the performances of Poulenc’s La voix humaine in the Festival in February.

Lavinnia Rae has not been so conspicuous in the last year or so as she’s been a post-graduate student at the Royal College of Music in London. But her name appears in many of Middle C’s reviews in earlier years.

Both musicians played in the NZSM orchestra accompanying Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2017.

Beethoven Cello Sonata in D
Though the Op 69 cello sonata (No 3) seems to be more often played, neither the early pair, Op 5, nor the two of Op 102, written in Beethoven’s last decade, are to be denigrated. The last of Beethoven’s five cello sonatas is the only one of the five in the conventional three-movement shape; three others have only two movements while Op 69 has three which are somewhat unusual in character. The Op 102 sonatas probably need to be heard as foreshadowing the piano sonatas and string quartets of his Late period.

Its opening is straight away marked by the vivid contrast between Glapska’s arresting piano and Rae’s quiet, legato cello playing, and it continues to draw attention to the essential differences between the percussive piano and the quiet, more lyrical cello, though now and again, the two merge; there’s no doubt that Beethoven intended it to be heard like this.

The second movement might have been some kind of reminiscence of the Ghost movement of the piano trio carrying that name. There was a mysterious character in the duo’s playing, and they adhered to Beethoven’s clear intention to use this movement to emphasise a musical affinity between piano and cello, in contrast to the first movement. The third movement again challenges the conventions with a densely created fugue that, with only a brief, unexpected, calm respite, resumes its relentless passage. These were indeed the characteristics of this performance that left one with a strong understanding of the composer’s intentions and genius.

Britten’s Cello Sonata
I have to confess to not being a total devotee of Britten, apart from a hand-full of what I guess are his more popular works. Much of his cello sonata however, is moving, and though I didn’t warm to most of it at my first hearing some years ago, more hearings have given me a distinctly greater appreciation. Perhaps it’s unfortunate that the skill and musicality of performers are rather important in inducing real enjoyment. My familiarity with the Britten/Rostropovich account has set the bar very high, bringing it to life with remarkable conviction, creating the feeling that it is indeed a masterpiece.

It’s in five movements, though the second was left out, the spikey, Scherzo-pizzicato.

This performance opened, Dialogo Allegro, imaginatively, with a sense of inevitability, evolving as a dialogue, such as would have come naturally from the warm friendship between composer and its dedicatee and first performer.

I enjoyed the next movement – the second, Elegia: the calm, secretive, impatience of its opening; with its enigmatic piano chords generating a melancholy, lugubrious spirit, as the cello meanders over its lower strings. The notes accurately described that fourth movement, the extravert Marcia energico: its menacing spirit generated by uncanny, fast harmonics.

The extended, scampering Finale sounds fiendishly difficult for both players. The notes defined the bowing technique, bouncing the bow on the strings in the Finale, as ‘saltando’. As a youthful cellist myself, I was embarrassed not to have known, or remembered, that name.

There were moments when I felt the composer was rather obsessively concerned to provide dedicatee Rostropovvich with a strikingly challenging work that he would turn into great, arresting music through his sheer performance and interpretive genius. I mean no criticism in observing that it’s hardly possible to expect lesser musicians successfully to uncover and give life to everything in this big five-movement work.

As so often with these lunchtime concerts, here were two minor (probably better than that) masterpieces that don’t get much played, and we must be grateful that so many professional – or near professional – musicians are ready to play without fees at St Andrew’s, and that Wellington has an amateur (read ‘unpaid’) entrepreneur, Marjan van Waardenberg, with the persuasive powers necessary to recruit them, to schedule and publicise their performances, as well as a central-city church happy to accommodate them.


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