S&H Recital review

Raphael Wallfisch (cello) John York (piano) Wigmore Hall, 20 May 01

Centenarians Gerald Finzi and Edmund Rubbra both featured in the first half of this concert dedicated to musical friendships. The programme began with an elegiac performance of Raphael Wallfisch’s arrangement for cello and piano of Finzi’s Introit for violin and chamber orchestra. In its adapted form, it made a slightly lacklustre and enervating opening piece and would perhaps have been more suitable as an encore to relax the musical tension.

The temperature rose immediately afterwards with a thrilling account of Kenneth Leighton’s masterly Alleluia pascha nostrum of 1982. Containing the kind of impassioned devotional qualities that have made composers like John Tavener and Arvo Pärt so popular, this work is based on 12th Century plainchants. From a darkly ruminative beginning, the piece rises inexorably in pitch and emotional intensity until the ecstatic final ascent to celestial heights. Wallfisch brought out a Messiaen-like combination of passion and spirituality in this moving work. He was matched by the euphoric splendour of John York’s dynamic pianism.

A further lightweight piece, Elgar’s Romance, oozed Victorian sentimentality in an affectionate reading, before Rubbra’s Cello Sonata (1946) which finds the composer at the height of his considerable powers. The opening Andante moderato’s rondo structure involves imperceptibly launched changes in pace which were expertly negotiated. The central scherzo is an inexorable moto perpetuo, a rigorous tour de force for both players. It was genuinely thrilling, Wallfisch and York demonstrating superb control and easily surpassing in dynamism and élan their seven-year-old recorded version of the movement (Marco Polo 8.223718). The Adagio Finale, a set of seven dignified variations on an original theme ending with an elegant fugue, gradually increased in intensity, reaching an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

A glorious interpretation of one of Rubbra’s most instantly communicative works, this would have been enough to provide a fitting climax to any concert. In my case, it was indeed the culminatory experience, as I had to leave the Wigmore Hall to catch a train, thus missing out on Eugène Ysaÿe’s Rêve d’enfant and Franck’s Sonata in A. However, the diversity of English music in the first hour provided enough high quality music making to constitute a deeply satisfying programme in itself.

Paul Conway

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