Review / Skilful duo perform with pleasure

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Aleksandar Madzar, left, and Nicolas Altstaedt Photo by Keith Saunders

THE current musical tourists for Musica Viva are the cello and piano duo of Nicolas Altstaedt and Aleksandar Madžar.

From the biographical information in the program, both have busy professional careers in Europe as soloists, in chamber music groups, with orchestras as well as teaching and directing festivals. Madžar, based in Brussels, has spent his last seven summers incrementally walking back to his home city of Belgrade. This is of little direct musical relevance, but it does show a commitment and passion which can be seen and heard in his music.

The duo are touring two programs of five pieces each. Common to both are Claude Debussy’s Cello Sonata from 1915, Nadia Boulanger’s Three Pieces from 1914 and a very new work by young Adelaide-based composer Jakub Jankowski entitled Aspects of Return. In addition we heard two longer works, Benjamin Britten’s Cello Sonata in C major, op 65 and Brahms’ Cello Sonata no 2, op 99.

The alternative works are Samuel Barber’s Cello Sonata op 6 and Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata, op 40, but we didn’t get the option.

The new Jankowski work explores the full tonal range of both instruments. The cello part in the second movement utilises a lot of harmonics with high piano chords that echo church bells as well as an interesting percussive effect of running a business card across the black keys! It is an adventurous piece of writing by a young composer, from whom more will doubtless be heard.

These are musicians of great skill who look like they enjoy greatly working with each other. Madžar leans across to listen to the cello or to give a cue with a nod. Altstaedt’s left hand seems to barely touch the strings. He has a lightness and delicacy at times while vigorously attacking the strings at others. He broke a string in the fourth movement of the Britten Sonata, which led to a delightful humanising moment as he left the stage to fit a new string and Madžar entertained with a short Debussy piano piece that fitted the mood of the concert entirely.

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