Elegy for Cello and Piano Op.2, by Christopher Morley


The Worcester Concert Club

Sunday 4th November 2012.

Worcester Concert Club was served a menu of riches by the cello-piano duo of Richard Jenkinson and Benjamin Frith, with two of the repertoire’s greatest works bolstering the programme. But the most treasurable offering was also the slightest. Only seven minutes long, Ian Venables’ early Elegy is a cry of anguish comparable with Elgar’s Sospiri, wrenching opening piano chords making way for a cello melody of lacerating pain. Its bravely slow-moving phrases lead naturally one into the other (yet with an acute structural cogency), with not a note wasted, arriving eventually at a conclusion without closure, the cello’s final note dissonant with the piano’s attempted resolution. An emotionally drained Jenkinson prolonged the subsequent silence, while many of us present wished this extraordinary piece could have gone on for much longer. We acknowledged the composer’s presence with gratitude.

Elegy, was perfectly followed by possibly the greatest cello sonata of them all, the Rachmaninov, heart-broken with regret yet with radiant stirrings of heroism. This was an account bursting with the empathy shared by the duo, eye-contact, even sixth-sense contact securing a reading in which all the music’s extraordinary, teeming textures were well-balanced. Frith was amazing here in what is virtually Rachmaninov’s Fifth Piano Concerto, looking back to the contemporaneous Second and looking forward to the awesome Third, which even the composer himself feared to play. Another great cello sonata, Brahms in E minor, was delivered with an engaging long view, its introspective opening movement patiently building into great outbursts of power. And surely a spiritual antecedent, Schumann’s Drei Fantasiestucke (Op.73) were given with immense sympathy, though the finale burst in too rashly. We had ended with a Russian work, we had begun with another, though Stravinsky’s neat, deft Pulcinella, should never have suffered the transcriptions various soloists have put it through. Piatigorsky’s clumsy version of this Suite Italienne for cello and piano just doesn’t work, though Jenkinson, witty and affectionate, despite needing more acerbic attack, and Frith, unfazed by this clumsily unpredictable piano-writing, did their best for an arrangement I hope never to hear again.

Christopher Morley