Sonata in D minor for Cello and Piano
Night Music [world premiere]
Sonata in C for Cello and Piano, Op.119
Leonard Elschenbroich (cello) & Alexei Grynyuk (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 3 March, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
In a change to the advertised programme for this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall, Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexei Grynyuk began with wartime Debussy rather than Schumann’s Funf Stücke im Volkston. Debussy’s Cello Sonata reflects the insecurities and anxieties of the time, as well as evoking a sultry Spanish night in its central movement, ‘Sérénade’. Elschenbroich and Grynyuk chose relatively relaxed tempos, which brought the melancholic strains of the first movement to the surface, but they had fun with the use of copious rubato for the nocturnal noises-off through the second. The finale was not always the Animé requested by the composer, but it did allow the burnished tones of Elschenbroich’s cello, a 1693 Goffriller once played by Leonard Rose, to penetrate.
Some rather different Night Music followed – the world premiere of a single movement for cello and piano by Mark Simpson (born 1988), himself a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist. Simpson’s piece takes three particular chords from Debussy’s ‘Clair de lune’ (not the first three) from Suite bergamasque as a starting point, using them almost to the point of obsession as the piece unfolds. While that is happening the cello soars to the heights, and Elschenbroich’s purity of tone was consistently strong no matter how high he had to play. Similar demands of register were placed on Grynyuk, though his treble notes were clangourous, delivering block chords in a continuous, Messiaenic stream. An ambitious work, Night Music wears a haunted countenance in its insistent references to Debussy, and in its minimalist dissection of melodic fragments. It ends thoughtfully with the chords again, the composer unsuccessful in removing them from his consciousness but content to have them there as part of his distracted dream.
Prokofiev’s ebullient Cello Sonata ended the concert, its profusion of hummable melodies always a delight. Once again Elschenbroich and Grynyuk opted for expansive tempos, playing to the strengths of the broad legato the cellist was able to find in the opening theme. The lyrical melodies were the more successful, and Elschenbroich was especially admirable in the thrumming pizzicato chords of the first movement, but the mischievous harmonic sleights were not quite as forthcoming in the second movement, despite a nice contrast of the graceful and the grotesque. The finale was lyrical, balletic even, again a little slow but attractively phrased, surging forward towards the end. As an encore the duo gave the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s Sonata.