Wielhorski’s enthusiast legacy inspires bold cello playing

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Edward Neeman, left, with Thomas Rann. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Music / “The Russian Cello”, Thomas Rann cello, Edward Neeman piano, at the Wesley Music Centre, August 2. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE. 

CONCERT themes are a particularly excellent way of preparing a program of music and the choice of the Russian-Polish Count Matvei Wielhorski and his legacy of enthusiasm for the cello, provided such an opportunity for cellist Thomas Rann and pianist Edward Neeman.

The concert, “The Russian Cello”, begins with Beethoven’s variations on a theme by Mozart, “Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen”, where the performers engaged each other with superb phrasing, balance of tone and volume.

Neeman extracts a beautiful singing tone from the piano, using a relaxed weight technique. Rann projects his cello sound in a bold, dramatic and engaging manner, partly due to his own stylish and beautiful playing, but also his magnificent modern instrument, made in 2010 in France by luthier Frédéric Chaudière.

Rann varies his upper register intonation at times, complimenting the beautiful rich middle register of his cello and its incredible bass foundation, the low open C string projecting with almost contra-bass proportions.

This pattern of finely honed balance, exquisite phrasing between the two players, tone production and projection of immense clarity and cantabile was repeated throughout the entire concert.

In addition, Neeman and Rann provided the audience with a masterclass in dynamic shadings, taking the audience on a whirlwind tour from the most delicate pianissimos, to forte passages and cadences of immersive strength and intensity.

Both artists play as if they “lived” every moment of each piece. Rann in particular seems to savour the opportunity to visually engage with his audience with occasional eye contact before disappearing back into his inner world of music making.

Two pieces by Karl Davydov followed, his “Romance sans paroles, Op. 23” being beautifully melodic and romantic in nature, before his “At the Fountain, Op. 20, No. 2”, which revealed a striking vivace opening of intensity from both musicians before relaxing back once again into a romantic melody of beauty and feeling.

Vieuxtemps’ “Elegy, Op. 30” followed, the cello part being transcribed from the original viola setting. In this, the cello played the dominant role with piano dropping back into a sensitive and moving accompaniment.

To close the program, Mendelssohn’s massive “Cello Sonata No. 2 in D Major” was spell-binding in its delivery from these two master musicians, where piano and cello share equal roles. Neeman recreated Mendelssohn’s own rippling arpeggiated phrases, based on a Sebastian Bach motive in the Adagio movement, both instruments fading into a sublime, almost mystic conclusion.

The final Molto allegro movement was played with conviction, style, precision and emotion of a magnitude rarely heard these days.

Perhaps it’s partly the large gap in time since I’ve heard anything live, but I truly believe this was a concert of the first rank.

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