Tuesday 17 December 2013

Cello for two

Jiaxin Lloyd Webber
Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber played a romantic return to the Cadogan Hall stage last night (Wednesday 11 December). Accompanied by John Lenehan the concert was more than pleasant – with not a single note out of place. All three performers were relaxed and genial, chatting to the audience between pieces, swapping instruments, and putting on a show as well as a performance. The choice of music and general atmosphere transferred to the audience who also seemed to be having a good time even though there were many empty seats.

Julian Lloyd WebberMost of the pieces chosen for the performance were originally songs. Webber complained that most two cello music is ‘fodder’ and explained that the idea for this concert had come from his 2012 CD produced to celebrate the death of John Ireland (1879 - 1962) - on which John Lenehan also plays.

Webber believes that the sound of a cello is the closet to the human voice and as such is the perfect medium for exploring vocal music in an instrumental setting. Two of the songs on the 2012 album were ‘virtually unknown’ two part songs by Ireland re-set for two cello and piano. From there he and Jiaxin researched and explored other songs and music which could be re-invented for trio.

The first song was a part song, ‘The angel’ by Anton Rubenstein (1829–1894), for two voices and piano. Rubenstein was described by Webber as a ‘one hit wonder’ - meaning “Melody in F” of which he played a few bars. However “The angel” worked perfectly well substituting two cellos for voices that provided lyric lines over broken chords and arpeggios in the piano.

The second piece was one of the Ireland songs from the album – ‘In summer woods’. Written in 1910 to a poem by James Vila Blake (1842 - 1925) this was originally scored for soprano, alto, and piano. It had all the pastoral style of an Ireland song although perhaps because it was written for two voices the piano did not take the lead as much as for his songs for single voice.

‘Six choruses for women’s voices’ by Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943) provided ‘The waves are dreaming’. Again this was originally written for two voices plus accompaniment. Lenehan brought out the melancholic piano introduction before the cellos began their conversation, turning into impassioned singing over each other. This became gradually lighter, ending as it began with piano. The Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 –1975) ‘Prelude from the ‘the Gadfly’’ was in the same melancholic and indulgent style, with strong changes in dynamic and powerful vibrato.

A change in mood brought us to ‘Concerto in E minor Allegro –Allegro’ by Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741). Vivaldi wrote 39 concertos for bassoon and tonight’s E minor (RV409) is for cello and bassoon. Here Jiaxin played the cello part at breakneck speed, while Julian chugged along on the bassoon line and piano stood in for the orchestra in breaks between duet segments. Compared to the ranging diminuendo and crescendos of the songs this was played with stepped dynamics. Julian followed this with Johann Sebastian Bach’s (1685-1750) ‘Adagio in G’ in a more romantically relaxed style.

Lenehan got to let rip for the Manuel de Falla (1876–1946) ‘Ritual fire dance’, which was full of Spanish flavours. Taken from the 1915 ballet ‘El amor brujo’ this is thought to have been inspired by ‘The flight of the bumblebee’, and was performed so fast that the instruments at times appeared out of synchronisation. However I suspect that this was due to the fact that a cello can be slow to speak rather than a fault of the performers.

Interestingly the Astor Piazzolla (1921–1992) chosen for the concert was a waltz and not the typical tango. Lenehan introduced this piece as he had written the arrangement. Apparently Piazzolla had dedicated this song ‘the little beggar boy’ to ‘all the children who have to live outdoors on the streets alone’.

We then returned to songs with ‘Ave Maria’ by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921); ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘Summer sunset’ by Rodger Quilter 1877 – 1953); and ‘The Harvesters by Antonín Dvořák (1841 - 1904).

The second half began with more Bach – this time faultlessly played by Jiaxin. She made the ‘Prelude and gigue from Cello suite no. 1’ look easy, with a tempered interpretation with lots of light and shade in the prelude, and a fast, dancing gigue. Webber dedicated Henry Purcell’s (1659 -1695) ‘Lost is my quiet’ to all the parents with young children. This version was very peaceful and a lullaby rather than the tortured love of the original song.

A move from England to France brought us Reynaldo Hahn’s (1874 –1947) ‘If my songs were only winged’ and Gabriel Fauré’s (1845 –1924) ‘Elegie’. Both of which brought us back squarely into a romantic feeling with Julian and Jiaxin gazing into each other’s eyes - the strength of their relationship made obvious. These were followed by a children’s song ‘Moonsilver’ written by Webber’s father William Lloyd Webber (1914-1982) and ‘Pie Jesu’ written by his brother Andrew Lloyd Webber in memory of their father.

Swapping cellos Julian and Jiaxin then played ‘Sweet and low’ by Joseph Barnby (1838–1896). Interestingly Jiaxin’s cello sounded utterly different in Julian’s hands - much more guttural - while the difference in their styles was less apparent for Jiaxin playing the Stradivarius. Swapping back they brought the concert to a close with Arvo Pärt’s (1935-) ‘Estonian lullaby’ and ‘All I have to do is dream’ by the wonderfully named Felice and Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant (1920 –1987).

My only fault with this concert was that the arrangements tended to have the same underlying quality because the cellos had the main tunes and major harmonisation (which may have originally belonged to the piano or other instruments) leaving the piano to trip along as back up and support. However the concert was called ‘A tale of two cellos’ and not ‘Cello trio’ – and Lenehan did get to show his solo skill by splendidly playing two preludes by George Gershwin (1898-1937).

If you missed it they are touring with the concert through to April 2014 or you can buy their CD ‘A tale of two cellos’ and listen at home.
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