The Cellissimo concert last night at the Adelaide Town Hall, celebrating the start of the second Adelaide International Cello Festival was a sell out event, and with good reason. Bring together four of the finest young exponents of the cellists’ art in one concert, one of whom is an Adelaide lad, leaven with four popular plus one premiere works on the program, then advertise as a gala event. There would have to be a buzz.
The evening left little to be desired, except perhaps the contemporary work. But more of that later. First to display his talent was Pei-Sian Ng in a masterful performance o the Lalo Concerto. What a difference three years makes. At the first Adelaide Cello Festival in 2008, Pei-Sian was a young talented Adeelaide boy showing lots of promise. Last night he demonstrated maturity, a well developed technique and fine musical talent. This was shown off in his articulation in the fast triplet passages towards the end of the first movement, his crafting of the mysterious elements of the slow movement and a sprightly final movement. He has grown into an assured soloist. Sure, the Lalo is a crowd pleaser, with its romantic melodies and careful writing that allows the cellist to shine through the orchestration. But, perhaps, too, something else has happened to Pei-Sian in the last three years. The way he crafted his performance without any hint of sentimentality suggested perhaps he may have been in love. And not only with his cello.
Twenty three year old Berliner Gabriel Schwabe next showed his talents in Dvorak’s Op 94 Rondo. Again one of the core pieces of the repertoire with the composer’s trade mark tuneful approach coupled with a passages of some technical complexity. It Pei-Sian’s articulation was good, Schwabe’s was even more impressive. He clearly is a talent to watch.
Nicolas Altstaedt, on his second visit to Adelaide, then provided the “anything you can do, I can do better” moment of the evening. Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso is a sort of cellists’ equivalent of Paganini Caprices. The performance was heart stopping in its brilliance. And this only took the audience up to interval.
Fortified with a glass of Church Block, your correspondent sat with great anticipation to hear Iain Grandage’s new work “Spindle” for cello and orchestra. Unfortunately this was not such an experience. Gabriel Schwabe cam back on to present what turned out to be a somewhat disappointing work. It wandered through three different styles without quite identifying where it was all going in its exploration of daily life and sleep. Thick orchestration often gave the soloist no hope of being heard, a surprising fault in a composer trained on the cello. The work failed to clarify where it shoul be placed in its contemporary vein. Neo romantic on occasions? Film score? Noisy irrelevance? Perhaps it needs some revision.
It would not be overstating the case in what, it is acknowledged, is a mostly glowing evaluation, to call the last performance the Grand Finale. Li Wei Qin is a little older than the cellists who appeared before him. But not much. He produced a beautiful Elgar Concerto, noteworthy for the relatively unmannered interpretation. The Elgar often suffers from performers who seek to make it their own with idiosyncratic readings. Not Li Wei. It was tight, straight and the way Elgar surely would have liked it.
A good play needs no excuse, as Shakespeare once wrote. But it would be grossly remiss not to note what a fine band the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra has become under Arvo Volmer. The warm acoustic of the Adelaide Town hall helps, but they produce a lovely string tone, fine woodwind ensemble and some great work from the horns. One could not wish for a better partner in a concert of concertos.
If you’re in Adelaide you may find it hard to find a ticket to tonight’s Shostakovitch celebration, also with the ASO. You correspondent feels sorry for you. But Cello Festival Artistic Director Janis Laurs can stand proud. He’s created one of those events where tickets are hard to find. All power to him.