We're lucky enough to get regular invitations to chamber music concerts at a private house; last night's performance was by a young man from Ottawa University, Raphael Weinroth-Browne. In effect this was the rehearsal for a recital that will take place at the university later this month. He played solo suites by Bach and Britten and a Sonata by Ligeti, all of them from memory.
For the Bach D Minor 'Cello Suite No. 5 he used an instrument tuned down to the authentic, Baroque pitch, and without any vibrato. The trouble with that technique to my ear is that the music seems less expressive than it would if played in a more Romantic style, but I am probably just prejudiced. The flow of the music is nonetheless superb.
After a pause for recovery after that endurance test, the 'cellist then launched himself into the Britten, played on a slightly larger and more resonant 'cello, this time with no inhibitions about the vibrato. What brilliant music it is! The Fuga sounds as if two instruments are playing, and I think he was triple-stopping in the sostenuto sections. (Here is an interesting blog-article about that and the Britten Suites in general, from a performer's point of view.) The Marcia movement finished with a sort of echo of the Last Post as if heard from far away on a bugle, in this context played as harmonics on the strings. The following Bordone section had him playing a drone on the open D-string while simultaneously plucking out melodies on the two adjacent strings. That must have taken some practising.
The performer (who incidentally is one of Paul Merleyn's pupils) spoke to us after the Britten piece saying that all three of the composer's 'cello suites had been written for Rostropovich to play. The Russian was a friend of Britten and called him Benjik. Because Rostropovich has been such an inspiration to 20th century composers, Mr Weinroth-Browne referred to him as "the saviour of 'cello music"––I assume he meant: of solo 'cello music. There had been a great gap in that genre between Bach's and Britten's day.
The concert concluded with the performance of György Ligeti's Sonata for Solo 'Cello, which like the Britten was in eight sections, but they all ran together without a break. Ligeti was a Hungarian-Jewish composer from Transylvania who died in Austria in 2006. The sonata is early Ligeti music, influenced by Kodaly and Bartok, which all the same was "too extreme" for the taste of the Soviet régime so 'cellists were banned from playing it in the USSR. This piece too demanded a good deal of virtuoso, presto playing.
We came away impressed.