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On 31 July the Romanian pianist Madalina Rusu, currently studying with Joan Havill at the Guildhall School, played a strong if more conventional programme of Beethoven, Brahms and Liszt. Her technical strength and control is already impressive even if one cannot yet sense much personality in her playing; perhaps, in fact, she knows her pieces too well, in one sense, so that the sense of wonder, of a journey of exploration, of re-creating the music in real time (and real acoustical space) and communicating it to real people -- was rarely in evidence. Yet -- even if her Beethoven Sonata Op 7 and Brahms Capricci Nos 1 and 2 from Op 76 lacked a certain degree of personal involvement -- I for one could only envy her cool and impeccable control in a scintillating account of Liszt's 12th Hungarian Rhapsody.

The cello and piano duo of Steffan Rees and Tau Wey provided a welcome change of sonority on 1 August, with a strongly classical programme of Beethoven's Fourth and Brahms's First Sonatas. Beethoven's C major Sonata, the first of a pair of sonatas Op 102 that lie on the threshold of the composer's 'late period' style, is one of his most enigmatic utterances -- in many ways the fully developed late-period works from a few years later being easier to bring off (my old teacher John Barstow once claiming he had never heard a bad performance of Op 111). Steffan Rees' and Tau Wey's performance was willing and intelligent; what it lacked was, as it were, a sense of what the music itself lacks -- a sense of Beethoven's own questing, gruff, totally honest grappling with new, uncharted techniques and feelings. Beethoven's long notes and mysterious silences were too often shortened, which gave the effect of turning this wonderful, experimental work into a comfortable concert piece, an effect heightened by the pianist's very direct, bright-lit sonority which often left the cellist submerged.

They were both on surer ground in the Brahms E minor Sonata, and here -- especially in a sensitively moulded second movement -- the cellist came more into his own, having hitherto displayed a rather reticent personality. This is a duo with undoubted potential but they need to delve more imaginatively into the emotional and sonorous worlds of their music.

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Copyright © 15 August 2006 Julian Jacobson, London UK


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