At the third concert in A Little Lunch Music series at the City Recital Hall, Sydney for 2016, Artistic Director Kathryn Selby AM and famed Australian cellist Julian Smiles invited the audience for an intimate visit with Beethoven, the first great composer of cello sonatas.
The performance of two of his sonatas for cello and piano engaged the audience in a very rich, animated and diverse musical experience.
The musicians communicated the intensity, courage, vigour and balance within these Beethoven sonatas.
They captured the youthful optimism and dynamic energy of his earlier composition Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op.5 No.2 and the introspection and aesthetic philosophy of his later work Cello Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102 No. 2.
Kathryn Selby established the scene giving historical and musical information about Beethoven, one of the most significant and influential of all composers.
Beethoven wrote Cello Sonata No. 2 in 1976 while he was on a concert tour in Berlin. It was written in honour of the King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm 11, himself a capable amateur cellist, who had a wonderful court orchestra.
In the court orchestra were two French brothers, Jean-Pierre and Jean- Louis Duport first and second cellists respectively. A comradery and friendship grew between the brothers and Beethoven.
At this time Beethoven was young and healthy, it was a stimulating and inspiring part of his life. He was twenty five years old and it was a time prior to Beethoven suffering from the deafness that would transform his later life and music.
Beethoven’s compositional integrity, innovation and brilliance are reflected in his Sonatas for cello and piano. Beethoven had no models and he was the first to completely write out the keyboard parts for large scale cello and keyboard works. These cello sonatas were unprecedented.
This revolutionary music pointed to the melodic solo voice of the cello, thus giving the cello an expression of its own.
When Beethoven wrote his first two cello sonatas he was carving out his career as a virtuoso pianist and he performed these pieces with Jean- Pierre Duport.
At this current performance Kathryn Selby was on the piano and Julian Smiles played a cello by Lorenzo Ventapane made in 1827.
The first movement began with a slow introduction that transported the audience to the joyful beauty and the essence of greatness that abounded in the music from this precious period in Beethoven’s life.
The musical collaboration between the performers resonated in each incisive note and was sustained with fluidity and injected with the infectious enthusiasm of true Beethoven devotees.
The tonal amplification, the precision and clarity of the playing made the music glow and defined the influences that connected the audience with both the music and the performances.
The sounds of each instrument working gloriously together coupled with the ease and finesse of the finely polished playing wove a dance of joy and discovery.
The lyrical assonance ascended the heights of bliss and celebrated youthful freedoms.
In the second movement cheerful harmonies emanated from the piano and then the cello joined in also celebrating in the fun, vigour and enthusiasm of the music. The playfulness of the composition is endearing and was exquisitely revealed by both distinguished musicians.
Tender moments were threaded like translucent pearls and the pale azure blue of possibilities pervaded the composition.
Variations on ‘Bei Mannern, welche Liebe fuhlen,’ from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Wo046 was also included in the program.
The theme of the music was the husband’s expression of love for his wife. The interconnection between piano and cello mirrored this love.
The tone of the music was serious. Tremulous notes slid from the bow. The romance of the expressive cello sounds were massaged by the deep rich variations of the piano. The depth of commitment oozed from the piano.
Then the instrumental roles were reversed. The cello was sombre and sonorous while the piano was lighter and spirited. Together they communicated love, respect and appreciation.
A growing unity and intimacy was fused into the playing and the beauty of love within the composition was unmasked.
The final work was Beethoven’s acclaimed Cello No. 5 in D major, Op. 102 No. 2 and this composition came from the third or ‘late’ period of his creative life.
This masterpiece has stood the test of time and Beethoven’s economical and minimalist approach allowed both instruments to have equal significance.
The dramatic opening movement began vigorously and cheerfully meandered through beauty and awe. The musician’s considered understanding translated into a lively interpretation and a sensitive approach to the music’s essence.
The second movement was measured and haunting. Introspection was deliberate, loneliness lingered as the deep dark terrains of the mind were explored. The intensity was tempered by the slowness and austerity of the music.
It was miraculous to ponder the cloisters of Beethoven’s mind no longer touched by a single sound. His genius had conjured the images of sound in his psyche. His anguish and retreat into an interior world permeated the playing.
The staggering fugue that followed conveys Beethoven’s spirituality and personal triumph. It defiantly heralds his courage, determination and powerfully complex grasp of his own physical condition.
Beethoven celebrated the cello and gave the instrument prominence within chamber music. Julian Smiles enthralling performance honoured Beethoven’s intention through his intellectual interpretation, physical force and accurate feel for timing.
Kathryn Selby’s virtuosic performance embraced the intrinsic assertion of Beethoven’s music, his ideas and lucid spiritual exploration.
Her piano playing delivered complex harmonic and textural density.
Together they paid tribute to Beethoven’s music producing with flair his range of exciting musical effects and generously inviting the audience to share in Beethoven’s extraordinary life and music.
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Artist images: courtesy Selby & Friends