Mozart’s operas are enough to put him among the greatest composers, even if they were all the music he’d written, so dense are they with such wonderful tunes. It comes as no surprise that Beethoven saw fit to extemporize on those tunes more than once.
William Clark-Maxwell, cello, and Soohong Park (pictured), piano, gave the first statement of the theme of Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen from The Magic Flute plenty of air before setting out on its capricious adventures, at one moment sprinkled starlight over a moody cello and at another lively and ludic but never less than inventive.
It was quite a big jump to Poulenc’s Sonata from there. In the Allegro Soohong scattered patterns and trills among the effects and longer lines of William’s cello. More quicksilver than Beethoven’s ingenuity, the cello was zesty, the piano lusty.
Calm descends in the Cavatine, which is sleepy, broader and brought out the soft touch of both players, of which more was due later. Ballabile was new to me and the news to me is that it is “a dance in classic ballet performed by the corps de ballet by itself or with the principal dancers”, in this case a happy one.
The dramatic flourish that the Finale opens with led in succession to disembodied top notes on the cello and frenetic fingerwork of the two instruments taking each other on in friendly rivalry.
On any other day, we’d have been well satisfied with two such contrasting pieces in fine performances but there was a further contrast to come.
We don’t seem to hear as much Arvo Pärt now as we did in that 1990’s heyday when music found its often ecstatic, accessible renaissance with his music and that of Gorecki, John Tavener and James MacMillan. We’ve lived long enough to see Pärt’s minimalism become mainstream repertoire.
Whereas John Cage’s 4’33 in some way makes the point that absolute zero isn’t achievable because extraneous noise will always intrude, Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel casts a spell that evokes silence, stillness and maybe the stopping of time.
Soohong’s delicate pulse in the right hand motif throughout was immaculate, the left hand picking out pin drops of notes from above and a solitary cantus firmus of a bass note below while William was other-worldly in slow scales wrapped around the piano. Absolutely scintillating, in an entirely mesmerising way. While an encore was entirely appropriate, there was no following that.
Picture credit: The Guildhall School of Music