Philip Higham & Sam Armstrong at Wigmore Hall – Mendelssohn, Schubert & Fauré

Variations concertantes, Op.17
Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano, D821
Sonata No.1 in D minor for Cello and Piano, Op.109

Philip Higham (cello) & Sam Armstrong (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 6 March, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Philip Higham. Photograph:’s Variations concertantes made an appealing opener to this YCAT concert at Wigmore Hall, Philip Higham and Sam Armstrong relishing the work’s interplay. The instruments passed the theme and its increasingly ebullient variations back and forth, with the often-rapid right-hand figuration in the piano posing no problems for Armstrong. Meanwhile an appreciably darker tone was employed for the seventh variation, set in Mendelssohn’s characteristically ‘stormy’ key of D minor.

Sam Armstrong. Photograph: Balazs Borocz - Pilvax StudioA graceful interpretation of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata followed, the transcription from the six-stringed instrument – now virtually obsolete – a natural one for the cello. Higham was impressively secure in his upper register intonation and phrasing, and the pair enjoyed the light-footed dance aspects of the outer movements. The cello sang most attractively in the Adagio, which was not overly expressive but was notable for its purity of line. The manoeuvring into position for the finale was akin to that of ‘late’ Beethoven, the performers slowing the tempo to heighten the tension.

There was notable passion for an extremely impressive performance of the Fauré. There was urgency here, an anxiety that took over the first movement with its fractious and unsettling motifs, the music refusing to settle. Both cello and piano sought resolution but were unable to find it, Higham digging into the long but distracted phrases, Armstrong flowing in his accompaniment but keeping the sense of harmonic elusiveness until the emphatic final bars. Calmer waters were reached in the Andante, if tempered by bittersweet lyricism, a form of elegy, though hope pervaded to in the sunnier close. Higham and Armstrong pressed this home in the finale, the music surging forwards, the long phrases nicely controlled. The ending felt like victory following a particularly tough struggle.

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