Thursday, 19 September 2013

THE MAGNIFICENT CELLO / Qin Li-Wei and Bernard Lanskey / Review

National Museum of Singapore
Tuesday (17 September 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 September 2013 with the title "History of cello through music".

For the penultimate concert in the Music at an Exhibition series at the National Museum, the  cello took centrestage in a delightful hour of music that traced the instrument’s development during the 18th century. Some eighty years spanned the works performed by Chinese-Australian cellist Qin Li-Wei on his trusty 1780 Joseph Guadagnini cello. 

Some purists prefer J.S.Bach’s Cello Suites to be heard on a baroque cello or the viola da gamba, but this music transcends eras and time. The opening Prelude of Suite No.1 in G major is possibly the most familiar of Bach’s music for the instrument, but here it sounded as if freshly minted. The full throated baritone voice coaxed by Qin was both soothing and arresting, and like a master story-teller spinning a yarn. He made you want to care.

The following movements were varied period dances, taken at a faster clip in the Courante and Minuets. The Sarabande, with its widely-spread chords and deeply-breathed air, gently held one captive. It was the bounding rhythm of the Gigue that allowed some relaxation in attention.

Qin was joined by Australian pianist Bernard Lanskey, also Head of the Conservatory, in Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Sonata No.6 in A major. By now, baroque convention had given way to the sleeker and less contrapuntal lines of the classical tradition. The prayer-like slow opening movement offered the display of an exquisite singing tone, while the ensuing Allegro was martial in character but one which smiled from ear to ear.

Beethoven was made of sterner stuff, and in his Cello Sonata No.2 in G minor (Op.5 No.2), the piano had graduated to become an equal partner with the cello. Lanskey spoke about the metamorphosis of the genre, with reference to the paintings on the Metamorphoses of Ovid from the Liechtenstein royal collection. The epic canvasses he alluded to also applied to the sonata.

Its first movement was in effect a slow and serious introduction, opening with a grim G minor chord and one filled with pathos. The early Romantic movement, which Beethoven was part of, meant that passion was often worn heart-on-sleeve. True feelings lurked below its calm exterior, and this erupted in the fast second movement, when pent-up emotion found a joyous release. The contrasts and transition provided by the duo was startling in its immediacy.

The finale’s Rondo was even more cheerful, with the piano taking the fore. Its passages of running notes could have been more cleanly dealt with but the comedic timing with the cello was always first priority. With the ice thawed and melted, Beethoven could always be relied upon to turn up the heat of excitement, and this spiritedly closed the concert proper. The encore was also much loved by the appreciative audience, an effective transcription of Bach’s sublime Air in G major.    

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