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The Glory of the Cello (Wednesday at 11am in St Joseph's Church) featured just one performer, Jiri Hanousek, principal cellist of the Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra. His Bach Suite No 6 had some sensitive playing in the slow movements but, good as it all was, he did not seem quite at home with the idiom. The reason became apparent as soon as he began the Kodály Sonata for Solo Cello: this was where he wanted to be. The first movement is ruminative, philosophical, and the second at a similar tempo but rather more lyrical and intense, while the third does for peasant dances what Bach did for courtly gavottes.

This sonata is acknowledged as one of the most difficult pieces in the solo cello repertoire and even a woodwind player like myself can see why. The sheer density of the texture is staggering. The first two movements are replete with multiple stops, simultaneous pizzicato-arco phrases and passagework running the full length of the fingerboard and beyond; that's challenge enough, but then the finale asks for the same textures at a much greater pace. Hanousek showed himself completely in command and received a standing ovation for his efforts.

Early arrivals for the twilight concert at Townsville's Civic Theatre. Photo © 2006 Malcolm Tattersall
Early arrivals for the twilight concert at Townsville's Civic Theatre. Photo © 2006 Malcolm Tattersall

Wednesday's twilight concert was devised by the Australian Artistic Director, Chris Latham, and presented by an eclectic ensemble: Pascal Rogé and Ami Hakuno taking turns at the piano; a string quartet led by Latham, plus another violinist and another cellist; and shakuhachi, didgeridu and percussion. A slowly changing slideshow behind them showed images related to their theme, The Well of Tranquillity -- Tibetan mandalas alternating with astrological charts, architectural domes, flowers and so on.

The music was all slow and pellucid, and all very new aside from two slow movements by Bach, played by Pascal Rogé, and a pair of traditional Japanese pieces from Riley Lee, shakuhachi. Lou Harrison's Varied Trio 1 (Australian première) and Matthew Hindson's Spirit Song (première) were obviously the newest works, but Ross Edwards' Enyato 1 (just the Chorale from it this evening), Philip Glass' Company and Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel are not terribly old either. Part of Latham's directorial purpose, as articulated last year, is to introduce audiences to new music in a way which makes it approachable. This programme certainly did so; it was all very pretty. The only risk is that some listeners may have been tempted to slip from the meditative state he wanted, into a gentle slumber.

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Copyright © 8 July 2006 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia


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