Music lovers in Pietermaritzburg can hear cellist Aristide du Plessis and pianist Christopher Duigan in recital at the Tatham Art Gallery this Sunday (25 February) at 11.30am. They will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s titanic Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op.19. Tickets are R80. The musicians’ performance will be reprised at St Agnes Church in Kloof on Tuesday (27 February) at 7.30pm (tickets R150).
Completed in November 1901 and published a year later, the great work is regarded as a lynchpin of the composer’s chamber music output. It invites both its performers to meet its very considerable challenges as equal partners. Most of the themes are introduced by the piano, while they are embellished and expanded in the cello's part.
Performing the work in KZN this month marks the realisation of a dream for Du Plessis, who is Co-Principal Cellist of the KZNPO. “My relationship with this sonata goes back to the first time I heard it live. It was played in Durban 12 or 13 years ago by the fascinating Russian cellist, the late Alexander Ivashkin. He had the most beautiful, enormous tone which just made the hall spin! I was very moved, even as a child, by how every movement of the work had so many beautiful melodies, and of all different types - pensive, profound, heroic, tragic, desperate, romantic, and joyous. Every emotion and feeling is in this piece, especially the Third Movement.”
Aristide welcomes the opportunity to perform this quintessential Russian masterwork. “My teacher in Zürich, Thomas Grossenbacher, gave me exercises to loosen up my vibrato, and produce sound in a healthy manner. My playing style became more "Russian School" - which mostly emphasizes a looser vibrato which is freer and more relaxed, in order to bring out the vocal qualities of the Cello - under Grossenbacher, because of his cellistic lineage. He studied with David Geringas who in turn studied with Rostropovich, the greatest cellist of the 20th century, and perhaps of all time.”
Presented by Music Revival, the sonata forms the centrepiece in an intriguing programme that also includes a selection on instrumental settings of Ave Maria - by Bach/Gounod, Giulio Caccini, Franz Schubert and the Argentine tango composer, Astor Piazzolla.
“This unusual coupling can be seen as an acknowledgment of the lyrical and deeply religious chant-like melodies in Rachmaninoff's music,” says Duigan. “The Cello Sonata’s piano part is very similar in many aspects of the piano writing to the second concerto. It is no surprise since they were written at the same time. The sonata also carries similar soaring anthem-like melodic lines as the concerto . It almost seems like Rachmaninoff was writing a major work with a plethora of magnificent melodies and realizing that the piano could not do justice to them, owing to its lack of ability to sustain a melody suitable, he converted the work to a cello sonata - utilizing an instrument that is known for its bold and rich melodic voice.”
One of the composer’s most popular works, the Cello Sonata was composed at the same time as his celebrated Piano Concerto No 2 Op 18 and Two Piano Suite, shortly after he had suffered a major breakdown from depression. The process of composing these works proved to be cathartic and pivotal in the composer’s recovery. It is widely seen as one of the greatest compositional outpourings in history of music.”
Booking is on 083 417 4473 (WhatsApp and SMS only) or at email@example.com. Tickets are also available at the door. For more info and additional performances visit www.musicrevival.co.za.
Friends of Music’s next recital takes place at the Durban Jewish Centre, 44 KE Masinga (Old Fort) Road on March 6 at 7.30pm. This will feature the swiftly rising young Viennese Auner Quartet, comprising Daniel Auner (first violin), Barbara Auner (second violin), Nikita Gerkusov (viola) and Konstantin Zelenin (cello). The group will perform Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 18; Mozart’s String Quartet in D Major KV 136; Schubert’s Quartettsatz in C Minor, and the String Quartet Nr. 4 “Mattsee” by Johanna Doderer. Safe parking is assured and tickets are R100 (members), R120 (non members) and R20 (students) at the door.
A reminder the KZNPO’s Summer Season is running in the Playhouse Opera Theatre each Thursday until 15 March. Performances start at 19h30. Next Thursday (March 1) sees conductor Kwamé Ryan on the podium, with flautist Liesl Stoltz as the soloist in an all-French programme. This includes: Gabriel Faurés Masques et Bergamasques Suite; Cécile Chaminade's Flute Concertino in D major; Claude Debussy’s Prelude a L’apres-midi d’un faune ; the Bizet/ François Borne Carmen Fantaisie; and César Franck’s Symphony in D minor.
Arjan Tien conducts an all-Beethoven evening on March 8. His programme opens with the acclaimed young German soloist Daniel Röhn performing the master’s Violin Concerto in D, and the Symphony No 3 ‘Eroica’ concludes the programme after intermission.
Season tickets and bookings for individual concert tickets are available through Computicket. Call 0861 915 8000 or book online at www.computicket.com. For more information call 031-369 9438, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kznphil.org.za.
1 Aristide du Plessis plays Rachmaninov with Christopher Duigan this week
2/Guest soloist Daniel Röhn plays Beethoven with the KZNPO on March 8
This column was first published in The Mercury on 23 February 2018.