JWR Articles: Live Event - Début Concert (Featured performers: David Pia, Gérard Wyss) - September 15, 2010

Début Concert

4.5 4.5

EMI 5 56440 2
A real musician in the making

Especially for those of us who spend most of their concert time in North America, the Lucerne Festival in Summer’s Début series is a much-appreciated way of hearing the next generation of musicians in person rather than the far less-revealing first CDs or radio broadcasts.

Judging from the 2010 crop, there should be no shortage of excellent practitioners and, hopefully, a true artist in the years to come.

Cellist David Pia is undoubtedly vying for a place in the latter category.

How fortunate indeed to have veteran pianist Gérard Wyss as his partner (the word “accompanist” doesn’t begin to do justice to the attentive support, understanding and insights that informed nearly every measure of the recital).

From the first bow of Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, Pia’s carefully crafted, tawny tone, burned into consciousness with admirable ease and deft understatement. While he knows where the bridge is (and how to use it when extra intensity is required) it is only employed as just another colour from the rich palette of hues available rather than succumbing to the siren call of brilliance that many others prefer to add, giving constant gleam to their sound.

The “Allegro” was wonderfully balanced as cellist and pianist held everyone’s attention with a conversational manner—clearly amongst equals—only surpassed by an ideally contrasting second subject.

In the Brahms—the heart of the program even as its “Allegro passionato” was rightfully approached and left as the core of the sonata—Pia was technically assured without dipping into the shallow end of flashy bravura. Still, make no mistake, when power was wanted (the closing of the “Allegro molto”), dry, yet rhythmically pulsating motion required (the “Scherzo”) or a pizzicato just a nickel short of brutal to prepare the calmer sections to come (the opening of the “Adagio affettuoso” was unforgettable) Pia never faltered. In particular, his C-string interventions were infused with a marvellous quality that immediately rekindled the stellar work of Pierre Fournier.

One wished that the Debussy had another dozen minutes than its succinct length. The “Prologue” with its beguiling, dreamy texture that gradually sought confidence (in the writing) and found it, was at one with the artist. The pluck and somewhat Beast and the Beauty scenario of the “Sérénade” was especially captivating.

The “Finale” was a bundle of nervous energy never far from a felling of exuberance—and wasn’t that a hint of Prélude de l’après midi d’une faune flitting by?

With so much of the closing Suite Italienne “lifted” from Pulcinella, hearing it this way was like meeting an old friend wearing a new wardrobe. It was the only place where pitch vagaries blemished the result—with so many thumb positions required in what often amounts to a one-man band transcription, there are bound to be a few extra-exciting moments.

The justly deserved encore went immediately back to the sublime, with a deeply felt performance of the “Largo” from Chopin’s G Minor Sonata.

Nothing more be said, except “Merci mille fois!”

Further developments in Pia’s career are eagerly awaited. JWR

Historical Perspective

Sonata No. 2 in F Major for Violincello and Piano, Johannes Brahms
EMI 5 56440 2, 1996, 26’ 22”
Lynn Harrell, cello; Stephen Kovacevich, piano
Four and one-half stars

Having last reported about Harrell’s live performance with Vladimir Ashkenazy, how marvellous to hear that a dozen years later (cross-reference below) his preponderance of bridge-driven bright tone has been tempered with a warmer, more flexible base.

Kovacevich would do well to consider less edge in his top range, full-cry contributions in order to better match the cellist’s searing but, now, never-scorching approach to the composer’s passionate drama.

Only a few measures in the otherwise breathtaking “Allegro vivace” threatened to fall off the rails before a magically eerie development section and return gave way to the beautifully stated closing theme from both. Brahms’ magnificently inventive study on pizzicato as thematic driver was very-nearly perfect: just a few slightly-in-the-cracks pitches from the cello’s upper tessitura causing a wee bit of distress. Still the important cadential moments were resolved with finesse, understanding and surety that appear to be increasingly rare.

Seemingly more distant from a recording perspective (in general the cello is a touch too heavy) the “Allegro appassionato” was a spectacular combination of burbling rhythm (Kovacevich’s left hand ideally balanced Harrell’s low strings) and a lyrical easy-flowing Trio. The purposely brief, joyful celebration of all that had come before closed off this sonata with a truly fond farewell. JWR

Between Performances

During the festival’s 38-day run, a wide variety of non-musical activities was 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 in time for the next performance—Cultural Tourism at its best!

It’s easy to see why Johannes Brahms (amongst many other composers, artists and writers) spent time in Thun, famously writing the “Thun” sonata there. The landscape-dominating Thun Castle and Museum is as informative as it is the best view in town. JWR

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Featured performers - David Pia, Gérard Wyss
Historical perspective performers - Lynn Harrell, Stephen Kovacevich
Adagio and Allegro in A-flat Major, Op. 70 - Robert Schumann
Sonata for Violincello and Piano No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99 - Johannes Brahms
Sonata for Violincello and Piano - Claude Debussy
Suite Italienne - Igor Stravinsky
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
EMI Classics Lucerne Festival The International Travel Writers Alliance
Cross-reference(s): Please click on the image link(s) below
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