The final concert of the 2108/19 Lunchtime Series at the Museum maintained what have been the basic features of the concert series this year,introducing exciting talent sometimes new to Leicester in programmes which were full of innovation. Michael Petrov, cello, and Erdem Misirlioglu, pianist, presented an all French concert of the Poulenc Cello Sonata and a transcription for cello of Franck’s Violin Sonata.
The Poulenc received a tremendous performance. The cellist showed himself to be a player capable of producing a really big warm sound but most importantly also possessing a wide range of dynamics and tone. In addition the pianist seemed to have the measure of the Museum Piano. Not everyone who plays in the museum is capable, for instance, of producing some of the exquisite soft playing that he managed. In concert both players delivered brilliantly the kaleidoscopic change of moods of the work, from the composer’s characteristic brittle wit , to the vein of lyricism found in the Cavatina, to the occasional moments of musical rhetoric which interpose themselves briefly in the work. Above all the playing fully delivered the wit of the work and the virtuosity on display at times and particularly in the final movement was thrilling.
The Franck work was played with the same panache. Both players made it into something that was in a way extremely dramatic. One felt the context of the work in the composer’s life, this being one of those late flowerings in composers’ lives where they suddenly find a new and fresh voice. In this case it was a composer who had been for most of his life stuck in the organ loft and yet who suddenly produced in the last few years of his life a handful of works in the mainstream which have remained in the repertoire ever since. The cello transcription of the violin sonata played here was made in the lifetime of Franck by his friend the cellist Jules Desart and apparently approved by the composer.
However, on the evidence of having heard it only once, I had doubts as to whether it was a very wise artistic judgement. Perhaps other factors played a part in the decision, something for an old friend or the simple desire to widen opportunities for the music to be heard. I also acknowledge that ,having lived half a lifetime with what I feel to be one of the finest chamber music recordings of all time, the sonata in its original form played by Kyung Wha Chung and Radu Lupu, made me somewhat biased against this version. If this composer had a failing it was to rather over egg the cake. His one symphony needs a fine conductor for it not to sound somewhat turgid. That world is entirely absent in the violin sonata. The two instruments are made to blend and to play off one another to, as the programme very perceptively said writing quite clearly about the original, often radiant effect. Even in the second movement with its passionate moments the sound world is clarity itself and the violin often sings in the work to quite wonderful effect .
In this performance, and I suspect in any performance since there was no doubt here about the pristine qualities of these players, the change from violin to cello simply could not replicate the sound world of the original and to my mind turned the work quite seriously into something else and for me at least something rather less impressive. The cello colour was as one would expect from a fine player, warm and powerful, but, the cello being the cello, it could not soar like a violin and the tonal world of the work became as a consequence much darker. Occasionally the piano part reminded one of the colour of the original but I fear for me it was as if the sunlight of that original was being reduced to dusk. I had a picture of a late fine Victorian room , all dark brown furnishing and opulence, when I wanted to be sitting in a sun- lit conservatory.
Whatever, many in the audience clearly enjoyed the experience and I shall most certainly look forward to hearing this duo again.
Friday March 29th. Philharmonia 7.30 DMH
Xian Zhang returns after making an impressive debut in Leicester sometime ago to conduct Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony . In the first part another rising star in her debut in Leicester Alina Pogostkina plays the Brahms’ violin concerto .
John Florance will talking to the conductor at 6.15 in the Hall and at 7.00 in a venue to be announced the Residency programme for 2019/2020 will be announced with input from several members of the orchestra.