|CONCERTS IN THE WEST - 11 – 13 July 2013
Performances in Lyme Regis, Bridport, Ilminster and Hatherleigh
Benjamin Gregor-Smith cello
Aglaia Graf piano
Beethoven’s C major Cello Sonata opens with the cello alone. One knew immediately from the suave, controlled yet expressive sound emanating from his 400-year-old instrument that Benjamin Gregor-Smith was communicating something special. The audience was entranced by the easy manner of these engaging musicians. Ben’s partner, Aglaia Graf, a native of Switzerland, is already a notable piano soloist, while Benjamin is currently assistant solo cellist with the Basel Symphony Orchestra.
Martinů’s Variations on a Slavonic Folk Song, written in the year of his death, 1959, is a work of shifting modality; it revealed the sure ensemble between the players. Next came Debussy’s austere but haunting cello sonata - ‘an affirmation of French culture which not even the Germans could destroy’, Debussy said; it is a statement all the more apposite since the Sonata was written in 1915. Ben and Aglaia’s was a bold interpretation, but missing some of the refinements of colour, nuance and shading.
The second half of the programme began with Shostakovich’s great D minor Sonata. We were lulled into a gentle but ominous false sense of security before being swept up by the composer’s sardonic humour in the fast waltz movement – played with appropriate panache. Likewise, after the achingly slow Largo, the finale appears simple; but what we heard was a folk-style melody presented irreverently, each statement differently weighted by these fine young players.
And there was an inevitability about their choice of Astor Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango as the culmination of each concert. Even if Aglaia’s bass lines were a little underweight, the players demonstrated their unerring close partnership by throwing caution to the wind on the one hand and finding restraint in the brief moments of respite in the relentless drive of the Argentinian composer’s dance.
Concerts in the West resumes for the final concerts this year with the Aquinas Piano Trio on 13 and 14 September and the Evropska String Quartet on 10 -12 October.
© ANTHONY PITHER 2013