Smyth: Sonata in A minor for Cello and Piano

october COMPOSER: dame ethel smyth

Ethel Smyth

sonata in a minor for cello and piano, Op 5, 1887

Sonata in A minor is a sonorous treat for the ears. A piece that displayed Dame Ethel’s move from student to professional; she composed it a few years after studying at the Leipzig music conservatory. You can hear the influence of Brahms, a man she both met and admired while studying. Indeed her time in Germany provided her a musical community that she had not found growing up in England. This sonata is dedicated to one of these friends, famous cellist Julius Klengel. The combination of cello and piano never fails to provoke an emotional response. It is especially true in Sonata in A minor where they are so magnificently woven around each other by Smyth’s lyrical expertise.

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A sumptuous feast of Prokofiev and Mahler

cellos and violins

When Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey enthusiastically tripped onto the stage followed closely by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s enigmatic chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis I suspected something pretty special was about to happen. I wasn’t let down.

Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante is infrequently played and known to be quite complicated. It certainly demands a number of complicated emotions and has the capacity to draw the cello out from beyond its usual rich deep moanings. Wispelwey indeed pulled something else from it; the piece and the cello came alive under his fingers and bow, it roared and screamed and conversed with the rest of the orchestra in sparkled animated splendour.

H61On a riser at the front of stage to allow for better projection, the cellist’s facial expressions were also on show. It was like having a glimpse at the artist’s inner world. Notes and phrases elicited expressions as if the music were escaping through him in a sort of pleasurable torture.

The ending of Sinfonia Concertante with its fast-tempoed final flourish was astonishing and abrupt. The audience erupted, Wispelwey and Davis leapt towards each other, their delight at the performance apparent by their flushed grinning faces and repeated shaking of hands. It’s always fantastic and infectious to see musicians enjoying themselves as much as those of us on the other end of it.

Read the rest of the review at Artshub