The Baillie-Lisney Duo

Sonata for cello and piano in D minor
Anatomy of Passion [World premiere]
Sonata for piano and cello in C, Op.102/1
Sonata for piano and cello in D, Op.102/2

The Baillie-Lisney Duo:
Alexander Baillie (cello) & James Lisney (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 21 December, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

A closely linked programme, under the auspices of Park Lane Group, from Alexander Baillie who was making a relatively rare appearance in London. Sonatas by Beethoven and Debussy sandwiched the world premiere of a work explicitly citing the two composers as principal influences.

Anatomy of Passion by Dutch composer Jan Vriend (born 1938) was a bold choice at just over 30 minutes in length, its grand designs set in a single movement that fell naturally into sonata form. In recognition of his constant involvement in the piece, Baillie used an electronic music stand loaned by Mike Hatch, successfully advocated by Tasmin Little in her Proms performance of Ligeti’s Concerto in 2003.

Baillie delivered scorching intensity in the frenetic ensemble of the opening, yet as the piece unfolded it seemed the composer exerting the biggest influence was Messiaen. Sighing birdcalls from the cello became ever more prevalent, complemented by quarter-tone phrases that found Baillie’s tuning to be spot on. A welcome calm descended for the reverent central section, the music working subtle variations on a theme while always arriving at a soft, open ‘C’ string, together with consonant harmony strongly reminiscent of the ‘Louange a l’Éternité de Jésus’ movement from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

As the music emerged from this serenity, Baillie successfully employed a series of scordatura, taking the ‘C’ string down to B flat, before the principal material returned with ever greater ferocity and virtuosity from the two musicians. This section was too long and threw away the chance of an arresting finish with a quasi-humorous phrase, ending inevitably on the low ‘C’ but ultimately inconsequential. This provided one of several discussion points in what is overall a powerful composition, one deserving further performances in order to form a proper judgement on its merits.

Debussy’s Cello Sonata provided the antecedent to this, Baillie fulsome of tone but with ensemble occasionally rather scrambled, particularly in the snatched phrases of the finale. Most effective was the central ‘Sérénade’, given with much rubato and vividly coloured pizzicato securing a strongly characterised performance.

Beethoven’s pair of sonatas, Opus 102, made a logical second half, the two works played together almost without pause. At times Baillie snatched at his lines in the second movement of the C major, overplaying dynamic contrasts with almost brutal force, but the edginess abated for a controlled Adagio and a naturally exuberant finale, both artists playing up the end beautifully.

A dynamic D major Sonata followed, James Lisney, as throughout the recital, every bit an equal partner in a communicative performance, with the Adagio particularly searching and bringing a hush to the previously restless hall. The fugue rose out of the ashes with wonderful momentum, the players throwing off the coda with panache. As a generous encore and in recognition of the influence of Bach in these works, Baillie performed two movements from a sonata by Bach (BWV1027), a clean-cut rendition to complete a stimulating concert.

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