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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On cellists, composers and veils,
with classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I was privileged to be in the cello section in Cardiff on 9 September 2004, when Raphael Wallfisch was playing with the English Symphony Orchestra, and I just can't get over how fantastic he sounded. He was playing Tavener's Eternal Memory for cello and strings and Thrinos for solo cello, along with a world première of a new cello symphony by John Metcalf, including male-voice choir, kitchen sink, etc.

I am not generally a huge fan of Tavener, who -- generally-speaking -- goes on a bit, and sounds a bit samey, and John Metcalf might, in terms of sound world, have been his younger brother, but I was stunned, amazed, and bowled-over by Wallfisch's playing. He's always sounded very good, of course, but the colours he conjured up, out of nothing, and the sweetness and power of his bow-arm were nothing short of revelatory. Are you a fan?

Yours, gobsmacked,
A M in Orpington

Dear Alice,

Yes, I am a fan, and (like you) I always was. For sheer, never-overstated musicality, Wallfisch has always been tough to beat. However, the cello he messed about with for so long did him no favours, and he has now got a little French gem, a little marvel by someone called Gaud (or similar), and the sound he is now producing is quite simply out of this world. I agree with you about his bow-arm (the flexibility of his right fingers is beautiful to watch, and the texture of the tone, especially deep on the cello, is gorgeous) but I also much admired the speed and variety of his vibrato in those works, and the way he carried through the long phrases using bow-groove selection and exquisite vibrato alone.

Not only that, but he is such a genuine person, such a non-soloist in his attitude. Chatted away to anyone and everyone, no histrionic Natalie-Clein-like throwing himself all over the stage, and quite good-looking too (nice shoulders!!!!) I hadn't seen him for years, but he treated me like an old buddy, and everyone in the orchestra was marvelling at how approachable he was.

I have decided that Raphael Wallfisch is an underrated Great British Treasure, like the paintings at Somerset House, and the walk up the Long Mynd in Shropshire, and that it is probably due to his having stayed with a non-soloist-standard cello for too long. And I urge you, one and all, to flock to hear him on his little French beauty absolutely as soon as poss, whatever he's playing and wherever he's playing it. This is one national treasure that deserves more exposure -- and I can't see it spoiling him, he's just too real a person for that.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

What the hell do you mean, 'a bit samey'?????

Why, in the piece you mention alone, I use two different styles, and a very weird bit marked 'dense, near bridge' etc!!!!!

You've got a lot of bl**dy nerve, you have.

As for 'going on a bit' (Grrrrrrrrr) I'll have you know that The Protecting Veil for cello and orchestra only lasts an hour and a half, if you don't count the introduction, and explores the same chord only ninety five times, while The Veil of the Temple (I have a monopoly on veils) a mere eight hours.

We in the Orthodox/Hindu/Sufi/Jewish church (pick one: hang on, today's Friday, that's American Indian religion day) are too ethereal to care about carping criticisms, which is lucky, as otherwise I would string you up, tear you limb from limb, break your back in ninety-five places and ...

[Note to Alice from Keith: Sadly, this letter had to be shortened due to a sudden and inexplicable lack of space. Sounds more exciting than suicide (see 'Alice's previous columns' below)!]

Copyright © 24 September 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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