Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Natalie Clein serves up a Sunday morning treat with solo cello works at the Wigmore Hall

22 January 2023

Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall (Photo: Kaupo Kikkas)

Excellent programming meets divine playing.

The Wigmore Hall’s Sunday morning concert the previous week had begun with a single cellist on stage, who was then joined by the Amatis Piano Trio’s violinist and pianist as Andrea Tarrodi’s Moorlands (2018) progressed. If that made for a highly moving opening, then it should come as no surprise that this week’s concert felt particularly emotive as it began in the same way and then remained like that as it was dedicated to solo cello works, all played by Natalie Clein.

With the planned recital beginning and ending with one of Bach’s cello suites, the main programme may have seemed straight forward enough, but in reality it was very well thought through. Because the first piece inspired the Britten that followed, which turned out to be the real revelation of the concert, it was interesting to hear them played in succession. In addition, the act of performing just two of Bach’s suites, especially when they were separated by other pieces, had a profound effect on how they could be played. When all six are presented together they constitute the recital in its own right, which naturally encourages them to be performed as a systematically conceived cycle where consistency ultimately has to be the watchword. When only two are offered, they can be tackled more as concert pieces, and this really enabled Clein to play out the dance elements and rhythms within them. These suites lend themselves to multiple interpretations, all of which are legitimate and enable interesting things to be heard, and, with them topping and tailing the main programme, the performances could be geared towards providing a strong opening and rousing finale.

“…it was very well thought through…”

Nevertheless, though there was undoubtedly energy in these interpretations, Clein skilfully tempered a vast range of elements to produce exceptionally balanced renditions. In the Cello Suite No. 1 in G, BWV 1007 (c.1720) one was struck by just how controlled the sound was so that it felt both highly expansive and exceptionally focused. Her playing was also impressive for revealing to the full the synergies between this and the Cello Suite No. 3 in C, BWV 1009, which she performed with great commitment and insight, as all of the suites comprise a Prélude and series of dances. In fact, the ‘only’ difference between these two is that one has Menuet I and II for its fifth movement and the other Bourrée I and II, and all feature an Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue

The second piece on the programme was Britten’s Cello Suite No. 3, Op. 87. Written in the early 1970s for Rostropovich, it was inspired by his playing of Bach’s own. Hearing it directly after that composer’s Cello Suite No. 1 made it easy to detect the motif from that, and to see more generally how those pieces influenced Britten’s composition. In a sense, it felt like a Bach cello suite advanced a quarter of a millennium so that the sounds contained within it were substantially more ‘fractious’ and varied. As Clein demonstrated with impeccable skill, it can demand, among many other things, heavy, almost coarse playing alongside the most delicate lyrical approach. Also interesting was the ‘stroking’ pizzicato effect across several strings that was required at times. The piece presents a theme and set of variations with the twist being that the latter come first, and the former only at the end. Clein suggested it was like suddenly encountering someone who one had not seen for a long time, so that one had to grapple with certain memories before finally remembering who they were. In this sense, as we heard the final Moto perpetuo: Presto and Passacaglia: Lento solenne, we certainly felt as if something had clicked in our minds.

The programme very nearly spanned four different centuries as Sibelius’ Theme and Variations for solo cello (1887) followed the Britten. Clein explained that she had been introduced to the piece by a student and fell in love with it so much that she wished to share it with everyone. The first encore came from a composer who is still highly active in the 21st century, although this piece was written in 1978. Pēteris Vasks’ Das Buch comprises two movements entitled simply Fortissimo and Pianissimo, and Clein performed the latter. It is full of quite unorthodox but extremely beguiling sounds and saw Clein sing with her cello towards the end as the work demands. The second encore was a performance of Casals’ arrangement of the traditional Catalan song El cant dels ocells, and it rounded off this most beautifully judged of recitals in suitable fashion.

• For details of all of Natalie Clein’s recordings and future events visit this website.

• For details of all upcoming Sunday morning concerts at the venue visit the Wigmore Hall website.

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Natalie Clein serves up a Sunday morning treat with solo cello works at the Wigmore Hall