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Review: Brilliant Young Musicians at St Peter's Church - cellist and pianist make a perfect duo

Chris Graves and Alison RhindChris Graves and Alison RhindThe latest in this popular Brilliant Young Musicians series of concerts was given to a very large audience at St Peter's Church on Sunday  (February 21) by Chris Graves (cello) and Alison Rhind (piano).

Alison is a respected ‘collaborative’ pianist working mainly on a repertoire of piano with strings.  Having first worked at the Yehudi Menuhin School, she is now coach for the String Department at the Royal College of Music - a post she combines with her freelance recital work. 

Chris Graves studied at the Royal College and is developing a successful career both as a soloist and as a chamber musician - he plays with the Castalian String Quartet.  

The concert opened with Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major written between 1812 and 1817.  It is the last of a series of sonatas for piano and cello - a combination of instruments then its infancy. The first movement opens with a series of fanfare-like arpeggios, a motif that is repeated by both piano and cello at regular intervals, separated by a plangent melodic line.

Both instrumentalists played with bravura and there was very obvious dialogue between the two instruments.  

This was followed by a gentle adagio developed first by the cello and then taken up by the piano. There is a melancholic darkness to the movement created by the piano's steady rich chords. The playing exploited very sensitively the elegiac properties, especially the change of mood in the middle of the work.  

The sonata concludes with a fine fugue - the first time that Beethoven had included a full fugue as a final movement.   This opens with a tantalising rising scale, repeated by the piano, before the two hurtle away in a dazzling conversation, the fugue subject batted from one player to the other. Wonderful stuff and played with great zest.  

The first half was completed with Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestucke. Three lovely pieces originally scored for clarinet and piano, but ideally suited to the cello.  They are warm and rich elegiac pieces; ‘songs without words’ indeed. Here is an outpouring of beauty with long flowing waves rolling from the cello, supported by rippling piano accompaniment. They were played with grace and all the ‘soul’ expected from German Romantic music.

The second half of the concert was devoted to one work, Brahms’ Sonata in E Minor. Begun in 1862 it was the first of Brahms’ duo sonatas. The long first movement begins with a profound theme on the cello around which the piano weaves a glorious halo of sound.

This was real collaboration, neither part dominant, but engaged in a continuous dialogue throughout.  

The second movement is a graceful minuet, with a trio forming the central section. Here, unexpectedly, we hear Brahms exploring the vocabulary of his classical predecessors.

The final movement is another allegro. The opening bars for the piano are a quotation from JS Bach’s Art of Fugue, a theme which is richly developed by both instruments at regular intervals.  This is a complex and difficult movement for both performers and played here with great confidence.

This was a very rewarding evening. The pieces were well selected and showed off the virtuosity of each of these competent instrumentalists, but also their ability to perform empathetically as a duo.

The next recital in this series of recital features pianist Kausikan Rajeshkumar - on Sunday 10 April 2016 - full details here.  The recitals ar sponsored by Hiscox Insurance and raise funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group and the St Peter's Church Trust.

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