Fali Pavri, piano
Naomi Boole-Masterson, cello
Lorraine Fiona Aloysius, piano
The Hanukkah (“Dedication”) festival commemorates the restoration of the temple of Jerusalem for Jewish worship in 165 BC by the great warrior Judas Maccabeus. His valour in battle supposedly earned him his surname (maqqaba is Aramaic for sledgehammer). Handel chose the setting of this momentous battle for his opera Judas Maccabeus, shrewdly using this biblical tale as an allegory for the recent victory of the English forces led by the Duke of Cumberland (labelled Butcher Cumberland in Scottish lore) over the Jacobite uprising of the Scots rallying around Bonnie Prince Charles, at Culloden in 1746. The rousing catchy chorus from the opera, “See the Conqu’ring hero comes” became the inspiration to Beethoven (a great Handel admirer) for a set of twelve variations for cello and piano (G major, WoO 45). It was interesting therefore that Scottish cellist Naomi Boole-Masterson should choose this particular work to open her concert at the Kala Academy on 4 January 2010, with husband Fali Pavri as accompanist.
Boole-Masterson’s ability to reach the emotional core of the work was well-evident here. The husband-wife team make for a very successful chamber collaboration. She was elegantly supported by Pavri, who instinctively took full advantage of the piano’s colouristic possibilities, especially with Beethoven’s generous writing for the instrument, and got out of the way as the cello line frequently took centre-stage.
Pavri then daintily tossed off two Chopin waltzes (the Minute in D flat major Op. 64, no. 1; and in E minor) in short order. While not meant to be danced to, Pavri ensured that the spirit of dance permeated right through his rendering, full of life and sparkle.
Boole-Masterson returned to perform a cello favourite, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. Originally intended for voice as a Song without Words, and sung using a single vowel of the singer’s choosing, it has seen many reincarnations thereafter. The version for cello and piano is arranged by Wolfram Huschke. Boole-Masterson’s sonorous tone “sang” beautifully in this seductive melody, vintage Rachmaninov in its suggestion of nostalgia, lament and yearning.
This was followed by the appearance of Lorraine Fiona Aloysius, to play John Field’s Nocturne in B flat major. She had a tough act to follow, on the heels of two master musicians, and she acquitted herself admirably. John Field is considered father of the nocturne, and Lorraine balanced the chromatically decorated melody in the right hand over an undulating line in the left hand, with good pedal control. In the Schumann however, (the familiar Träumerei from Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood)), there seemed to be excessive recourse to rubato. Conductor Alan Hazeldine used to say that proper use of rubato, should require that one robs Peter, in order to pay Paul. In this instance, while Peter was robbed frequently, Paul didn’t get paid as scrupulously.
Pavri returned to play Danzas Argentinas, a set of three dances written by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera during his nationalist period, and heavily inspired by Bartok. The work is awash with coded musical nationalist idioms, employing as it does Argentine dance rhythms and melodies, vernacular harmonies, and idiomatic guitar writing. The first dance (Danza del viejo boyero, Dance of the old herdsman), in the rhythm of the gaucho dance, the malambo, is remarkable for the fact that while the right hand plays only white notes, the left hand only black. It ends with the “guitar chord” ie the notes of the open guitar strings in standard tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E). Danza de la moza donosa (Dance of the beautiful maiden) begins languidly, in 6/8 time, turns expansive, evocative of the vast pampas plains, before settling back to where it began, albeit transformed. Danza del gaucho matrero (Dance of the arrogant cowboy), taken by Pavri furiosamente and salvaggio (wild) just as prescribed, rounded off the trio of pieces. The composition is a showcase for pianistic sensitivity and pyrotechnics, and Pavri displayed both in equal measure.
Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů featured next on the programme, with his “Variations on a Slovakian theme” for cello and piano, a work crammed with charm and insouciant wit that the duo brought to the fore with great aplomb.
The three movements (Tihai, Jhalla, and Gat) from Indian-born composer John Mayer’s Prabandha (Connected narrative) for cello and piano (Boole-Masterson/Pavri) seem to have been the highlight of the evening for many in the audience. It is a formidable work, if these glimpses are anything to measure it by, demanding as it does of both players utmost concentration, synchrony and skill. The piano seemed to take on a percussive ( a nod to tabla?) at times, particularly in Jhalla, at other times both voices sang in perfect but frenetic unison. The cello line had melodies in Indian scales and droning double-stops evocative of the tanpura. The climax conjured up images of Nataraja himself. This stirring rendition has certainly whetted the appetite to hear this work in full, to say nothing of the rest of Mayer’s compositional output.
The evening ended with “the only serious work in the programme”, in Pavri’s words: Brahms’ Sonata in (No. 1, Op. 38, in E minor) for piano and cello. This work has famously been described as a “pastoral work with elegiac overtones”. The brooding emotionalism and serene contemplativeness of Brahms in the first movement (Allegro non troppo) found a soulmate in the sound of Boole-Masterson’s cello, while Pavri paid full heed to the injunction that the piano “should be a partner – often a leading, often a watchful and considerate partner – but it should under no circumstances assume a purely accompanying role". The central (Allegretto quasi Menuetto) movement came as an oasis of relief after that, while the last, with its fugal opening, was absolutely riveting al fine.
Fortunately for us there was an encore: Le Cygne (The Swan) from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. It is programme imagery at its very finest, painting an aural picture of a swan gliding gracefully over a still lake, leaving ripples in its wake.
Sadly, the spillover of noise from the crafts mela in the parking lot marred an otherwise perfectly pleasant musical evening.