If one were forced to choose a single movement from the delightfully varied program presented in the Début Series by cellist Nicolas Altstaedt and pianist José Gallardo it would undoubtedly be the “Adagio” from Elliott Carter’s thoughtfully structured Sonata for Cello and Piano (1948). Here, Altstaedt dug deep into himself and his art producing an array of captivatingly personal statements that had much to say from composer and performer alike. Gallardo was entirely supportive, aptly demonstrating his ability to listen and know when to lead or follow. He opened the closing-section conversation with a deceptively simple touch which was soon echoed by the cello as the pair moved steadily forward to the final, seul, word, ringing cleanly from the fully engaged C string.
After that magnificent flood of emotion, the near Perpetuum mobile busyness of the closing “Allegro” provided several welcome moments of darting art all of which led feverishly to a pair of “doorbell” harmonics, some jazzy pizzicato and a fond adieu.
The sonata began with a fascinating study of pointed dryness (piano) and intense legato (cello), occasionally switching roles but never letting the inner tension let up until the plucky ending concluded with a beautifully executed “into-the-night” double stop. The “Vivace, molto leggiero” more than lived up to its billing. The music was infused with a playful conversational air, much pizzicato punctuation and an ever-engaging up-and-down-and-all-around feel that ideally set up the “Adagio.” This was a performance to savour, aptly demonstrating why Altstaedt is this year’s recipient of the Credit Suisse Young Artist Award.
With so many significant composers—at one time or another— having come through Nadia Boulanger’s teaching studio, it was instructive indeed to hear one of her own creations. The brief sonata began with a dreamy, fluid tone; its singular motif was simplicity itself. Both players found just the right touch, but, as with the opening work, the balance tended to favour the keyboard. With a strangely British hue, “Sans vitesse et a l’aise” seemed a gentle look back at music long past and a fine model of elegance and control. The zest, verve and happy surprise of the “nervous” Finale revealed the dramatic acumen of the famed pedagogue, sizzling its way into the ear on both sides of the contrasting lyricism of the middle section.
The welcome epidemic of Astor Piazzolla that’s taking hold of North America (cross-reference below) found its heady way into these concerts with a crisp, taut tango where the high-reaching, bird-like slides were tossed off to the enjoyment of all. When it was his turn to take stage, Gallardo’s roots drove the music with extra passion. Only the rose was missing!
Like last evening’s reading of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, the least successful selection was Beethoven’s D Major Cello Sonata. Altstaedt took a decidedly understated approach that might have worked much better if the Steinway’s lid had been “on stick.” The lean, energetic, edgy cello lines were frequently a strain to hear and left the sense of arrival at climactic harmonic junctures for another day. Not surprisingly, ensemble suffered as well. Perhaps this methodology was employed to set up the “Allegro fugato” where an arid rendering of the subject is most certainly valid. Yet, allowing more ‘liquid” art in the two preceding movements might well have set up a remarkable contrast. No worries. Both men have enough talent, technique and ideas to sustain important careers; with time on their side, they have years ahead to revisit and perhaps reshape the standard repertoire while treating audiences to the marvels of what can no longer be called “new music.” JWR
During the festival’s 38-day run, a wide variety of non-musical activities will be sampled both in Lucerne and other parts of Switzerland. Because of the excellent local and inter-city transportation system, there’s plenty to see and do within a day’s reach and still be back for the next concert.
A bit of a climb up to Lucerne’s Musegg Wall and its towers (the clock is a real gem; much-needed restoration work going on elsewhere now will ensure complete accessibility for generations to come) will be rewarded with some spectacular views of the city and the harbour. After enjoying the spectacular sights, it’s all downhill going back to the concert venues and another musical treat. JWR