Matthews Three Enigmas; Dutilleux Trois
Strophes & Rainier Grand Duo Purcell Room, 11 January 2000
Alice Neary (cello) & Gretel Dowdeswell (piano)
PLG provides rare opportunities for its Young Artists to present unfamiliar repertoire. This programme was well balanced, with two British works from the '80s, Colin Matthews' Enigmas (1985) and Priaulx Rainier's large scale penultimate composition of 1983, separated by Henri Dutilleux's unaccompanied cello solos (1976-81).
This was a satisfying, indeed memorable, recital and it is worth examining the components which made it so. Alice Neary is well established on the professional scene, and conveys a feeling of confidence and of being completely at home on the concert platform, which reassures the listener. She embraced her cello as if it was an extension of herself, and her tone was gorgeous, indicating a fine instrument. She dressed comfortably (formal concert dresses seem inappropriate for this series nowadays) and her gestures were concordant with the music, never exaggerated or drawing attention to themselves.
The chosen works were well contrasted. The Matthews is hectic and trenchant in its outer movements, enigmatic in the slow centre; it has an unusual feature of unison passages in which the two instruments become one. (This all worked better in this original version, which was wholly convincing, after their later recomposition as Three Studies for clarinets had left doubts in performance by Sarah Thurlow with Huw Watkins the previous evening.)
The Dutilleux pieces gave opportunities for Alice Neary to display wide ranging imagination, based upon solid technique which freed her to characterise the music with a full palette of tone colours, and to luxuriate in the complex harmonics which held no terrors at all for her. PLG programmes have always featured unaccompanied music, and for the cello that repertoire is now extensive and very rich. Rainier's Duo draws upon Zulu sounds heard during her rural upbringing in South Africa. It is a large scale piece, a little elusive but well worth reviving, with good expressive opportunities for both players.
All the music was well prepared (but without suggesting over-preparation which can stifle spontaneity) and Alice Neary was well supported by Gretel Dowdeswell, an experienced chamber music pianist, who was always with her precisely, matching tone to perfection (not always easy with the cello). A happy occasion.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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