30 March 2014

This or the footy

I’m in Adelaide for a family visit and this was the Adelaide Cello Festival and the footy was the two Adelaide teams, the Crows and Port, at the redeveloped Adelaide Oval. The footy replaces the Stones concert that was to be the launch event but the footy is all the rage in town today. I chose the cello. Margarita Balanas performed a few solo pieces and was otherwise accompanied by Damien Mansfield. Margarita is aged 20, Latvian and currently resident in London, studied at the Purcell School of Music and now at the Royal Academy of Music. She’s here for this festival and a few concerts in Melbourne and Sydney. This was an interesting program. A few standards – prelude from Bach’s 5th cello suite in C minor, Schumann from Op.70 and an encore with Saint-Saens’ Swans. All lovely, the Bach was played firmly and the Schumann with classical intelligence and the SS with intimacy. But it was the Latvian repertoire that I found interesting for being unknown, if only to me. Vasks Pianissimo from Gramata was all sliding trills, drones and double stops, East European despair, three key pizzicato notes and even some unison vocals with the cello. Fascinating and surprisingly well received for such a daring first tune. Played as solo cello. The Bach was obviously played solo. I could only think how superb is the cello as a solo instrument: deep, melancholy, expressive with a broad range with fifth tunings and a generous, sensual instrument. Margarita played the Bach with satisfying firmness that spells out the intelligence of this music. The second half was four Latvian tunes. Darzins was a romantic melody against rising piano chords in ¾. Mence was more modern with considerable dissonance against a tonal centre, pizz arpeggios against rolling piano arpeggiation, an urgent feel of crotchets on 1-2 followed by a rest, and cello as accompaniment. Medins was prettier, consonant, lyrical, in 4/4, with 4-bar phrases responded over the following four. Another Medins was legato, smoothly flowing. I loved the heavy vibrato, nice intonation and strongly expressive playing. And she mostly played from memory. A young player, but impressive and much enjoyed. Too bad she’s not visiting Canberra; maybe next time. Some final notes. Nice to meet Kym Wilson, ex-ArtSound, who was recording for the local community radio station. Turns out we attended the same school here in Adelaide, although in different eras. Nice also to return to the Latvian Hall where I tread the boards in Henry IV Pt.1 in my schooldays (hint, neither King nor Falstaff). And, finally, nice to find this festical. It’s expected every two years and this is its third incarnation. It’s running 10 days including two weekends; it features Finn Marko Ylonnen, “the legendary” Lynn Harrell, Leonard Elschenbroich with the Stikovetky Trio appearing for Musica Viva, inventive and improvisational Rushad Eggleston, Cellisimo (four celli) with the Adelaide Symph, workshops and a fascinating “cello challenge” where 5 luthiers, on public display, build a “world class” cello over 10 days.

Margarita Balanas (cello) was accompanied by Damien Mansfield (piano) at the Latvian Hall for the third Adelaide Cello Festival.

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