Sacha McCulloch (cello)
Faith Maydwell (piano)
Government House Ballroom
reviewed by Neville Cohn
A recital of masterworks for cello and piano at Government House Ballroom at the weekend raised funds for the Australian Red Cross. Unusually at this venue, curtains at the rear of the stage were drawn back so allowing the late afternoon sun to bathe the stage in light.
It was an account of Brahms’ Sonata for cello and piano, opus 99 that provided the most consistent listening pleasure. Here, both musicians drew from deep wells of expressiveness in a way that allowed the sonata’s cumulative grandeur to register most positively on the consciousness.
Certainly, with Maydwell at the venue’s splendid, recently acquired Fazioli grand piano – and McCulloch impressive in coaxing noble tone from the cello, especially in the lower range – one was able to savour one of Brahms’ greatest inspirations. In fact, if this had been the only item on the program, it would have been an entirely fulfilling listening experience. I dare say that unfamiliarity with the Ballroom’s acoustics may have been a factor contributing to some less than immaculate cello intonation.
Rachmaninov’s Sonata for cello and piano is not for tinkle-fingered shrinking violets. On the contrary, it requires a cool head, an iron nerve and Olympian staying power to essay this formidably demanding score. I’m happy to say that on these counts, both musicians came up trumps with playing of an impressively committed kind. More often than not, there was bracing attack and follow-through in even the most dauntingly complex episodes, and these were almost invariably a model of what fine ensemble playing is all about. Again and again while traversing the musical equivalent of a minefield, the duo seemed to relish coming to grips with its challenges. I especially admired the quality of keyboard tremolos which brought an extra frisson to the scherzo.
This epic opus makes massive demands on the players but, some less than precise cello intonation aside, both musicians emerged from this titanic musical challenge with honour largely intact.
As curtainraiser, we heard Beethoven’s Variations on a Theme by Mozart. Notationally immaculate playing with pleasing corporate tone compensated for some lack of buoyancy in presentation.
There was an extended interval with fizzy drinks on the house.