Pieter Wispelwey & Dejan Lazic

12 Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, WoO45
Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano, D821
Cello Sonata, Op.65

Pieter Wispelwey (cello) & Dejan Lazic (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 5 February, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This was a generous concert from an established cello and piano team, who have already recorded all three works here for Channel Classics. Wispelwey once again used his 1760 Guadagnini cello, accompanied by Dejan Lazic on a modern Steinway.

Beethoven’s Judas Maccabaeus Variations drew comparison with the Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin partnership a week earlier – and unfortunately most were unfavourable. From as early as Handel’s theme something was immediately awry, as the two musicians placed deliberate emphasis on particular notes and made the phrasing uneven, even before the first Variation. Lazic proceeded to take the lead with impressive attention to detail, and his flourishing chords that picked up after the minor-key Variation were beautifully rendered. The canonic sixth Variation returned to the oddly exaggerated note emphasis from both, however, and the roomy penultimate Variation, like a recitative in its outer sections, was extended a little too much.

After this rather indulgent performance Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione (a bowed guitar) and Piano restored the balance. With the arpeggione itself an obsolete instrument, the cello remains the ultimate beneficiary of this work, even if the demands made on its high register are considerable. Wispelwey handled these with ease, and both musicians enjoyed the springy dance episodes that made up the second group of thematic material. Once again Lazic secured detailed yet highly musical accompaniment, and the pair found plenty of room for a restful Adagio. Wispelwey’s cantabile tone for the Allegretto finale was most appropriate, with spikier dance sections characterized by crisp piano-playing from Lazic.

A characterful if rather aggressive performance of Britten’s Sonata followed, at times threatening to remove the cellist’s bow hair altogether! Edgy does not come close to describing the ‘Dialogo’, which sprang forward in a manic rush, though time was found for an atmospheric end on Wispelwey’s harmonics. Most successful was the pizzicato ‘Scherzo’, a tribute to Bartók that both players kept exquisitely controlled and shaded. The ‘Elegia’ felt too fraut at a rather unhinged climax, approached by Wispelwey with a wild portamento, and the weighty ‘March’ was loud at its end. Finally the ‘Moto perpetuo’ pitted the rat-a-tat cello figures against Lazic’s more sustained accompaniment, with definition overcoming repeated stick-on-string sounds by the cellist, before the two finished in a hugely expansive unison.

As an encore to sooth the fevered brow of the audience (if not BBC Radio 3 listeners) was Fauré’s Après un Rêve; the completion of a varied recital during which the performances could never be accused of sitting on the fence!

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