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5th December 2014

London Cello Society Review

Caroline Gill writes…

The London Cello Society once again descended on the Royal Academy of Music on 16 November to celebrate another year of the promotion of cello playing and its development among professionals and amateurs. This year, the festivities took the form of an all-star concert of cello duets that Selma Gokcen, Chair of the LCS, described as an opportunity to hear “the arc of a beautiful phrase that can be enjoyed twice instead of only once. It is this process of both listening and responding that makes playing with a fellow cellist so pleasurable.”

Pleasurable it was for the near-capacity audience in the historic Duke’s Hall, too, with performances from cello luminaries such as Raphael Wallfisch and Sebastian Comberti, who closed the first half with Alfredo Piatti’s Serenade for two cellos.  It was a perfect example of what the LCS represents: Piatti, a revered but little-known 19th-Century cello virtuoso, wrote a large number of works for the cello, many of which are played only rarely, or not at all.  Yet this was music so easily under the fingers of Wallfisch and Comberti that they were familiar enough with this niche repertoire to present a performance of such character and warmth that there was an audible swelling of morale among the audience.

It was a happy preamble, as it turned out, to the presentation of the LCS Lifetime Achievement Award (last year given to the instrument expert Charles Beare) to the much loved and respected player and teacher, Steven Doane.  His old friend Steven Isserlis, who spent much of the early part of the evening hiding behind pillars and tall people to avoid detection, surprise-presented the award with a characteristically amusing speech to a modest and overwhelmed Doane, whose performance with Academy professor Guy Johnston of the Handel g minor sonata had been a highlight of the first half and as clear an indication as any of his stature as an artist.

The second half of the concert, however, was handed over in its entirety to the extraordinary Swiss Demenga brothers.  Opening with the deceptively charming Sonata No.10 by Jean-Baptiste Barrière, Thomas Demenga’s own composition – Solo per due – separated the incongruous fireworks of its final movement from the concert’s finale with a serious piece of compelling, intricate and intelligent writing for the cello.  Although it was undoubtedly a receptive and positive audience (as Isserlis pointed out in his speech, “cellists are usually a particularly nice bunch of people”), it was brave to bring a work like Solo per due to such a strong concentration of cello expertise.  But what he presented was, in fact, a piece of serious, avant-garde music that showcased the cello in a way that was neither grandstanding nor catchpenny, but that still pushed it to its limits in a way that can only be done by someone intimately acquainted with the instrument and its illimitations.  It was also the perfect set-up for Paganini’s “Moses” variations on a theme of Rossini, which closed the concert leaving the audience laughing out loud with enjoyment – presumably from the rush of adrenaline built up over the course of the increasingly fast and difficult variations.  Their own arrangement of the piece for two cellos originally written for one string on the violin (as well as being played on the cello, most notably by Paul Tortellier), was a white-knuckle performance as close to a perfect representation of everything the Demenga brothers are as it is possible to find.

Brompton’s was thrilled to have sponsored such a successful and happy occasion.