It is written that ‘a prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house’ and there is a terrible temptation in a concert series, such as the Cranleigh Music series, to invite only outsiders and neglect our own prophets of Euterpe. But Marcus Pashley ensures that the Muse of music is represented by the home team too, and there has been no finer recent example of the world-class quality of our music teachers than this concert for ’cello and piano by Head of Performance Richard Saxel, and peripatetic violoncellist Andrew Fuller.
Mr Fuller’s cd recordings for Dutton are a fine memorial of his musicianship and exploration of less chartered waters but this concert made me wish for a recording company to digitise him in more central repertoire also. And yet, after so thrilling a reading of the Rachmaninov, I drove home thinking that no studio recording could catch the thrill of live music-making, especially when a duo are so much in sympathy and so keen to listen and respond to the mood of the moment.
Andrew Fuller would, I am sure, agree that, although the string soloist is often billed as the ‘star’ (think of some of the journeymen pianists who recorded with Heifetz), in music like the Rachmaninov the pianist is at least as important and in places the challenge is as great as playing one of his piano concertos. Richard Saxel is the ideal man for this: an accomplished soloist (‘Gramophone’ hailed his solo cd as ‘outstanding’), but one who self-effacingly prefers to focus on chamber music and collaboration, in the tradition of Graham Johnson and Richard’s teachers, Michael Dussek and Clifford Benson.
The concert began with Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ sonata, a difficult piece to bring off, as it was written for a now defunct instrument, but which Andrew played almost as if he were a baritone singing lieder. The opening tempo suited such a lyrical approach and the controlled vibrato in the ‘Adagio’, especially, seemed singer-like. The beautiful tone of Andrew’s George Hudson instrument was played to bring out a huge variety of colours and this was complemented by Richard, having rehearsed on a 1789 Broadwood, scaling down the sound of the Steinway to create the intimacy this music requires. The last movement seemed to tread the paths of ‘Winterreise’ in places, with an interlude as pure as ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’.
Richard introduced the Rachmaninov by alluding to the composer’s nervous breakdown and placing the sonata as following the much-loved second concerto. I have always felt this sonata to be a finer piece than the concerto and, whereas the concerto still seems haunted by illness and gloom, the finale of the sonata seems a joyous return to health and anticipates the festival finale of the second symphony. Self-indulgent playing of this composer can undermine his structural mastery and it was gratifying to hear the climax of the movement so clearly (and movingly) brought out, by Mr Fuller holding some tone in reserve for the big moment. The finale was joyously triumphant, with Rachmaninov holding back perhaps the best lyrical tune for this ending. The bravura finish drew a standing ovation from some of the pupils (and one older audience member) and, although, such special concerts normally demand an encore, it seemed right not to follow this mightiest of sonatas with anything small-scale. To hear chamber music-making of this quality normally requires a journey to London’s Wigmore Hall, so it seemed a pity that the limited seating in the Clive Stevens Recital meant that some would-be listeners had not been able to attend: this concert deserved the Devonport Speech Hall.