Jean-Guihen Queyras & Alexandre Tharaud at Wigmore Hall

3 Kleine Stücke, Op.11
Sonata No.1 in E minor for Cello and Piano, Op.38
4 Pieces, Op.5 [arranged for cello and piano]
Le plus que lente [arranged]
Sonata in D minor for Cello and Piano

Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello) & Alexandre Tharaud (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 27 April, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

In this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexandre Tharaud performed Webern miniatures and Brahms’s First Cello Sonata without interruption.

Jean-Guihen QueyrasIn truth it takes longer to write about Webern than to listen to his music, yet though these short pieces were less than three minutes in total duration their emotional impact lasted some time afterwards. Webern was directly influenced by “Brahms the progressive” (Schoenberg) and it was possible to link the concentrated pieces to a compressed development of Brahms’s musical language, focussed and detailed in this performance.

The Brahms felt reserved, plaintive even in the second main theme of the opening movement, as Jean-Guihen Queyras chose to eliminate vibrato before using it for the exposition repeat. Both performers secured clarity that helped the cello’s low register even in quieter passages. This aided the finale’s fugue greatly – its contrapuntal lines easy to follow – while the second movement had an attractive lilt to its dance rhythms. Tharaud was responsive to Queyras’s lead, making sure the piano part was never congested.

Juxtaposing Debussy and Berg was another interesting idea, the chosen pieces written between 1910 and 1915. Alban Berg’s Four Pieces made for a natural transcription from their original medium of clarinet and piano (the arranger was not credited) and the two performers found wide emotional range – an outburst of barely concealed violence from Tharaud during the last Piece to the bleak end of the second – and palpable coldness in Queyras’s tone.

Debussy’s Le plus que lente also worked well in this transcription for cello and piano, with Queyras giving a generous application of rubato as the waltz intentionally stuttered and struggled to get itself going. The performance of Debussy’s Cello Sonata was perhaps the highlight of the recital, vividly coloured. The sheer range from Queyras was breathtaking, a brief passage in the nocturnal ‘Sérénade’ hinting even at the sound of a clarinet. The performers were rhythmically pointed also, Tharaud’s rippling arpeggios were a highlight of the finale, and again rubato was evident, bringing out the improvisatory nature of ‘Sérénade’.

As an encore the pair performed the third movement (‘Ballabile’) from Poulenc’s Cello Sonata, a vibrant and colourful excerpt with which to end a stirring recital.

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