Friday 20 June 2008

A delayed birthday present - Ades and Isserlis at Aldeburgh 2008

The programme notes that the item before the interval will be Ades' new composition: Lieux retrouves, for cello and piano. Unfortunately, so busy is Ades, that this was not yet finished for Tuesday's concert. Doubly unfortunate since the programme informs us that it "was commissioned by John Makinson for Ginny Macbeth's birthday"; she, like the rest of us, will have to wait until next year. Still, Ades and Isserlis played a concert that was a fine gift even so.

They began with Debussy's Sonata (1915). I'm not always a fan of the composer, but Ades' sensitive accompaniment and Isserlis's fine playing made it very enjoyable. Better was to follow with Janacek's Pohadka [A Tale]. I was curious how Janacek's music, so richly coloured with brass in his orchestral and operatic compositions, might fare in a chamber setting. Brilliantly, is the answer. A wonderfully lyrical piece with an impressive range of texture and colour. Isserlis has recorded this, unfortunately his accompanist dreaded Olli Mustonen.

Ades' composition had been replaced by a Schumann piece, Violin sonanta no.3 in A minor, which Isserlis himself had transposed for the cello. It did not initially grab me, but improved as it went on. Isserlis displayed an impressive dexterity: originally written for Joachim, one of the great violinists of his age, it made large physical demands which were further amplified by the move to the larger instrument. However, occasionally, particularly in the final movement, it did seem like it might have benefited from more rehearsal.

After the interval, more Kurtag, this time four solo cello pieces from Jelek, jatekok es uzenetek [Signs, Games and Messages]. As with the composer's other work, I found it do be disjointed, lacking in structure and, in the last movement especially, horribly repetitive.

This was followed by Ravel's superb Deux melodies hebraiques. Originally this music set an Aramaic "Kaddisch" and a Yiddish verse. It shows: a simple yet moving piano accompaniment against which the rich and beautiful cello part evocatively sings.

More fun was the Poulenc Sonata for Cello which brought the concert to a close. The work balanced humour and grandeur, melodrama even, but in such a way that didn't reduce the work to the pastiche or joke it could have become. Here the piano and cello parts were much more of a conversation between equals, and superbly played. Credit too, to the page turner, who not only turned Ades' pages but also twice had to get up, cross the stage, and turn Isserlis's too. Between one such change the timing was quite tight, but he did it very well. Doubtless a Hesse student, but an anonymous one; one felt he deserved more recognition. On Wednesday we appealed for the identity of a member of the Gabrieli Consort so we could properly credit them (and received it within twelve hours), we should like to do the same for the unknown page turner, so if he, or anyone who knows him, is reading this, feel free to use the comment box below or send an e-mail via the link on the right.

All in all, a wonderfully enjoyable concert. As with Carolyn Sampson yesterday, a compelling and coherent programme of works. To be broadcast on Radio 3 on Wednesday 25th, it can be thoroughly recommended.

The encore came, we think, in the form of a nice piece by Faure.

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