Pei-Jee Ng (cello)
Federico Cortese, conductor
Perth Concert Hall
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Like some musical Julius Caesar, Syndey-born cellist Pei-Jee Ng came, played and conquered at the Concert Hall. If his account of Haydn’s Concerto in D is any pointer to the future, this lean and lanky teenager is on a fast track to the stars. Over many years attending concerts, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to this Haydn concerto. Ng’s interpretation places him well to the fore of those I’ve heard over the decades, not only for his remarkable physical command of the instrument (which is a major achievement in itself) but his ability to reveal the passionate demon that, for much of the work, lurks behind the printed note.
In performance, especially when his bowing arm is fully extended, Ng strikingly resembles the celebrated portrait by Augustus John of Madame Suggia, that greatest of Portuguese cellists of an earlier era. But there’s far more to Pei-Jee Ng’s presentation than an attitudinal likeness to Suggia. This was no casual reading of the notes. On the contrary, one felt, throughout, a total identification with the score.
For much of the outer movements, Ng’s playing was the quintessence of ardour. From first note to last, this youthful musician drew the listener ineluctably into Haydn’s sound and mood world, drawing from his instrument the sort of tonal colouring that critics dream about but seldom encounter in reality. I was no less impressed by Ng’s ability to mine the score for every ounce of meaning but always within the bounds of taste and stylistic integrity. And his phrase-shaping was as natural and meaningful as the breathing of a great singer. Ferociously difficult cadenzas were essayed as if they had been written for him.
Federico Cortese took the WASO through an accompaniment fit for royalty – to which Ng responded with princely authority.
As curtain raiser we heard the Pulcinella Suite. It has always seemed to me a gross impertinence on the part of Stravinsky to set down his name on the score as if he, and no other, had been the author of the charming, often haunting, melodies and rhythms that make this such an appealing work. Nearly all the credit should go to the Pergolesi and some of his contemporaries from whose pens streamed the delights that Stravinsky stole – yes, stole (it is not too harsh a word for this) – and re-cast with trademark dissonances and some clever use of instrumental colouring. Surely, this absurdity, indeed dishonesty, should not be tolerated; Pergolesi’s name should be at least as prominent (more so, preferably) as Stravinsky’s on the score and in the program.. Cortese was impressively prepared for the work; under his guidance it flashed into delightful life. Robert Gladstones made an excellent contribution on horn – and oboist Joel Marangella was in exemplary form, too.
This was the WASO’s first performance of the work in 17 years. It deserves to be heard more frequently.
Copyright 2003 Neville Cohn