Anna Sleptsova (piano)/Louise McKay (cello)
WAAPA classical piano students
WAAPA Music Auditorium
reviewed by Neville Cohn
For many, if not most, concertgoers, Chopin is thought of exclusively in relation to works for piano, whether solo or as concertos. But the great Polish composer also wrote a number of chamber music works such as Variations on a theme of Rossini for flute and piano; he also wrote a Trio for piano, violin and cello as well as a number of songs. These seldom appear on programs – but his Sonata for piano and cello is rather more frequently heard. It was the peak of an all-Chopin program and played with rare distinction by Louise McKay (cello) and Anna Sleptsova at the piano.
It was a splendid offering, the peak of the evening, in fact. Impeccable tonal balance between the two instruments, gratifying unanimity of thought and action insofar as ensemble was concerned – and its romantic essence was evoked to the nth degree.
At the conclusion of the first movement, concert protocol was thrown to the winds as a thronged auditorium burst into a huge outburst of applause.
I particularly liked the intensity of feeling brought to each and every measure of the slow movement, with phrasing of utmost finesse allowing the music’s inherent tenderness to register in the most meaningful way. And the finale was made memorable by beautifully considered rubato that enabled the players to capture – and reveal – the elusive demon that lurks behind the printed note. Bravo! This was a model of what chamber music ought to be.
In passing: the last three movements of the sonata were played for the very first time by cellist Auguste Franchomme with Chopin himself at the piano at Salle Pleyel, Paris on 16th February 1848. It was Chopin’s last public appearance as pianist. (After the concert, there were many drops of blood on the keyboard, horrific evidence of the TB that ravaged his lungs and claimed his life.).
Prior to the Sonata, we listened to a number of WAAPA students who offered a miscellany of Chopin’s pieces for piano.
One of the most meaningful presentations came early in the evening with Jordan Proctor evoking, to pleasing effect, the gentle, bittersweet essence of Mazurka in A minor from opus 17. Emma Davis, too, played, most expressively, the Nocturne in E minor from opus 72.
Chopin’s four Ballades were less uniformly successful.
In Ballade No 2, Izaac Masters revealed both the passion and poetry of the writing but the coda sounded reckless, leaving a trail of wrong notes in its wake. Ryan Davies played Ballade No 1, demonstrating considerable potential but needing to bring a more disciplined approach to allow the poetic nature of much of the writing to manifest.
In Ballade No 3, Mitchell Price-Norgaard conveyed the powerfully romantic nature of the writing with attractive mood contrasts but the overall impact was weakened due to a surfeit of inaccuracies. There was good evidence of an eloquent left hand in Xiaosong Liu’s reading of Ballade No 4 – but the presentation, overall, was marred by many inaccuracies and – in the fiercely difficult coda – a lack of rhythmical control.
Despite a memory lapse and a surfeit of pedalling, Chern Xi Khor’s account of the Nocturne in E opus 62 no 2 brought an attractively languid quality to the presentation.
In Emma Davis’ finely balanced hands, momentum was generally well maintained in Nocturne in E minor from opus 72.
Rhythm was rather too wayward in Chopin’s splendid Polonaise in C sharp minor from opus 26 which is, of course, a dance and needing a steadier beat. And there was a surfeit of wrong notes in Nocturne opus 48 no 1.