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Sunday, 22 February 2009

A brilliant evening of music in Millfield

I've just come back from a cello recital given by Steven Isserlis and the pianist Sam Haywood. It was in the marvellous new Millfield concert hall, and was part f the Cossington Concerts. My good friend and musical partner Helen treated me; she's a cellist, so it was extra special for her.

But it was enthralling for me as well.

Steven played the Bach 3rd unaccompanied cello suite very freely, as if he was improvising. You almost forgot that what he was actually playing a lot of the time in the first movement was broken chords. He made it all sound like something rich and strange - and romantic. I don't know what Bach would have thought, but it was great entertainment. The Gavotte is the famous movement from that suite, and a second Gavotte, the jam in the Gavotte sandwich, is the only part of the suite where the cello plays a tune in single notes. Quite a surprise when it comes. All the rest is either real chords, double and triple stopping, or broken chords.

Then came Schumann's 3rd violin sonata arranged for cello by Steven. I didn't know the work. It has an interesting history. Schumann had Brahms staying with him, and a famous violinist going to come and visit him soon, and he got Brahms to write one movement of a violin sonata, a pupil to write the opening, while he himself wrote a slow movement and finale. Brahms' scherzo has become a concert work in its own right. John Smart played it in Street Parish Church and I accompanied. A fine work.

But after the violinist, Joachim, had enjoyed his little musical present, Schumann went away and wrote his own first two movements in three days, and it was called his 3rd sonata and was the last thing he wrote before his madness took over.

Did it work as a cello sonata? Yes, except for the last page, where the string part is obviously meant to soar into the stratosphere, and the cello can't quite do that. But a good experience.

There were more Schumann pieces after the interval, Fairytale Pictures. It's wonderful how Schumann can write simple melodies that have that extra something. If you or I took the same simple shape and made our own melodies, they would be nothing - at least mine would, I've tried!

The last work was the Chopin Sonata. A great stormy piece. Its drawback is that it has't got any great melodies in the stormy movements. With Chopin piano music there's usually what you'd call in the pop world a 'hook', a bit of melody you recognise and internalise and wait for its return. I didn't feel that in the cello sonata. But again, good to listen to.

Sam Haywood the pianist matched Steven in everything. His hands on the keyboard were quiet, even in the most taxing bits, and I couldn't fault him once.

We are very lucky to have that concert hall in Street, and Millfield School willing to open it to the whole of Street. And soloists of Steven Isserlis' stature are a rare treat.

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