Alban Gerhardt & Steven Osborne at Wigmore Hall

Sonata No.2 in F for Cello and Piano, Op.99
Sonata in C for Cello and Piano, Op.65

Alban Gerhardt (cello) & Steven Osborne (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 26 October, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Alban Gerhardt. Photograph: albangerhardt.comJust as Alban Gerhardt and Steven Osborne were getting into their stride in the passionate outpouring of Brahms’s Second Cello Sonata, the cellist’s ‘A’ string broke. For Gerhardt this was no cause for alarm, having also broken his bow in rehearsal, so with good humour and the minimum of fuss the players regrouped and started again.

Inevitably there was a short period during the BBC Lunchtime Concert while the new string acclimatised, but the episode did nothing to mar a fine performance, broadly lyrical and beautifully rich of tone. This is perhaps the Brahms’s most expansive duo-sonata, and the players captured its grandeur particularly in the faster music, zipping through the outer fringes of the scherzo and straight into the finale, a stern countenance replaced by a contented smile.

Steven Osborne. Photograph: Eric RichmondThe second movement Adagio was quite fast but certainly generous, with even the softly voiced pizzicato of the cello’s upper register having a certain richness to it – though the projection of the melodic line was ideal. Osborne’s sympathetic accompaniment was ideally weighted, standing back a little in the lower register passages of the first movement, where Gerhardt’s gruff statements came through beautifully.

There followed a fiercely emotive account of Britten’s Cello Sonata, the first of five works for the instrument dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich. There are strong references to other composers here, which Gerhard sought out – the eerie night music of the ‘Elegia’ evoking Bartók, while the stern ‘Marzia’ was Shostakovich-like in its heavy-set musical statement and mysterious, glassy ending. Both players were superb in a feather-light scherzo, clearly listening to each other while Gerhardt tempered the urge to pluck louder in the more frenetic passages. In the Presto a challenging tempo was set, a fitting finale in its helter-skelter virtuosity.

The mood softened considerably for the encore, a beautifully restrained account of Fauré’s Après un Rêve.

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