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Beethoven Rules!

MALCOLM TROUP reports from the recent
Annual Beethoven Chamber Music (Duos)
Masterclass and Competition
at London's Steinway Hall


This year, for the first time, the Beethoven Chamber Music Competition, organised by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, assumed truly international status with the competing duos coming from China, Japan, Brazil and, representing the EU, Hungary -- justifying London's position at the musical crossroads of the world. As usual, Martin Lovett (ex-Amadeus String Quartet) was there to dispense his endearing qualities of pertinacity tempered with kindliness in getting to the core of any technical or interpretive problems during two preceding days of exhaustive masterclasses (22-23 May 2007) aided and abetted by Alberto Portugheis, compère of the event, and cellist Gwyneth George, to whose generosity we owe the cash award.

To begin with, we heard the English cello/piano duo of Helen Neilson (RCM and TCM) and Alan Durham (RAM) give a respectable, if uninspired, reading of Beethoven's Sonata in A major Op 69. Helen's recent performances include a recital at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and the première of Daniel Hewson's Secret Doors while Alan is organist and Choir Director of St Matthew's Church Surbiton. At times, their playing reminded one of an earlier period when sonatas were entitled 'for Piano and Cello' (rather than the other way round) so lacking in body and vibrancy was the cello part, often submerged by the sharp-toothed piano. Whatever there was of ensemble was largely serendipitous. Then came a Brazilian wake-up call from passionate Diego Carneiro with pianist Aleksander Szram leaving no doubt as to their Beethovenian credentials from first to last note of the Sonata in D Op 102 No 2 -- every phrase being made to yield its full weight while never losing its place in the lively give-and-take. Nor did they falter at the fugue which drove through to its indomitable, if rugged, conclusion. Diego, born in 1983 in Brazil's Amazonia, began playing cello at twelve and his performances have already taken him throughout Brazil, Paraguay, USA and Europe, winning him inter alia Myra Hess, Tillett Trust and English Chamber Orchestra Awards along with a scholarship at TCM, where he is studying with Richard Markson. In 2005 he was soloist in a Royal Albert Hall Promenade Concert, broadcast by the BBC. By rights, he should have been awarded the Second Prize since this was distinguished playing at the highest level.

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Copyright © 5 June 2007 Malcolm Troup, London UK


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