Romantic Classics for Cello and Piano at the National Concert Hall, Friday 26th September.
The National Concert Hall on a sunny Friday afternoon seems a world away from the hubbub of the Friday evening symphony concerts; the anxious expectation and clinking of glasses are replaced by carefree chatter and the faint whiff of coffee. The patrons in attendance, who are largely of an older age group, discuss the programme and await the arrival of our performers. On this Friday, the highly-respected duo of Annette Cleary and Rachel Quinn play a programme of Romantic, heart-on-sleeve music for cello and piano.
Beginning boldly with Webern’s Drei Kleine Stücke, the pieces are so short and so atonal that a ripple of amusement circulates; the pieces are performed with conviction and followed by polite applause. However, from the moment that the performers launch into Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in G Minor, the reasons behind the unusual programming choice of placing Webern first are clear. With atonal clusters still ringing in our ears, the opening bars of the ensuing Sonata sound rich and harmonious (which is especially notable given that the introduction of the Sonata is the most harmonically complex part of the entire work).
Playing the entire programme from memory, Annette Cleary demonstrates an extraordinary level of ease in her cello playing. Given the outwardly expressive nature of the works on display here, the high A string of the cello is where the majority of the playing happens; her unyielding tone and warm vibrato find a natural home in this music, particularly in the Rachmaninoff Sonata. The emphasis on varied articulation in the Allegro Scherzando, by both composer and performers, makes it the highlight of the programme. Rachel Quinn plays beautifully, and shows considerable stamina in a notoriously difficult piano part. At times when the cello was playing an accompaniment role, the big melodies of the piano perhaps needed a more penetrating edge; nevertheless, it is an entirely assured and tasteful performance, with the Field-like piano introduction to the third movement being a memorable moment.
Following a very short break, Annette Cleary introduces the Irish Airs arranged by Joseph Schofield. Schofield, she describes, was a cello teacher in the Royal Irish Academy of Music in the early twentieth century. As a teacher in the same institution one hundred years on, Annette Cleary has taken interest in the pieces and has performed them often in recent times. The pieces are pleasant, mostly consisting of cello melody and chordal accompaniment on the piano. Finally, as a kind of programmed encore piece, we hear Daniel Van Goens’s short Scherzo, which allows us a glimpse of virtuosic cello technique, something which was not otherwise to the fore in today’s programme.
This lunchtime concert delivered precisely what concert goers wanted: a strong programme of Romantic music, performed to an impeccably high standard and with charisma. With an impressive line-up of lunchtime concerts coming to the National Concert Hall over the next few weeks, the patrons of these concerts can enjoy the unique combination of great music and a relaxed atmosphere.
Anton Webern: Drei kleine Stücke, Op. 11
Sergei Rachminoff: Sonata in G Minor, Op. 19
Schofield & O’Brien: Irish Airs
David Van Goens: Scherzo, Op. 12