Torleif Thedéen, Kathryn Selby rise to challenge of intimate music making

The Canberra Times
September 16, 2014
by Jennifer Gall

National Gallery of Australia, Monday September 15

Swedish cellist Torleif Thedéen joined Kathryn Selby for an evening of intimate and intense music making in the fourth tour of the 2014 season. The two performers selected music by Beethoven, Dean, Debussy and Grieg to illustrate the connections between music and the tension within human relationships.

Paul Dean's arresting work Three Intimate Interludes was a good choice to open the concert, describing in three movements the disintegration of a relationship. The bickering cello line sparring with an equally aggressive piano voice gave musical meaning to the first movement – Conflict. An ascending spiccato cello motif railed while the piano answered in monosyllabic disagreement. The second movement – Dissection – opened with a crab-like movement of the left hand establishing the meditative, analytical mood that led into the sparse final movement –  Isolation.

Beethoven's Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 5 No.2 was composed in response to the composer's meeting with French cello virtuoso Jean-Pierre Duport – Director of Chamber Music to King Friedrich Wilhelm II.

The architectural design of the sonata is obtrusive and suggests that Beethoven was primarily experimenting with form to create maximum opportunities for showing off the dramatic possibilities for interaction between the cello and piano. Exuberant ascending runs in the piano line in the Allegro molto piu tosto presto provided a nice counterpoint to the melancholy cello legato line.

The sophisticated elegance and maturity of Debussy's compositional skill was immediately discernible in this lovely performance of the Cello Sonata in D Minor, L.135. Written in 1915, the work contains echoes of the fears Debussy harboured about illness and his despair at the conflict of the First World War – but there is also a celebratory thread expressing joy in the ability to create a work of art out of old and new ideas.

From the opening phrases of the Prologue, the dialogue between piano and cello is handled with utmost confidence. This is a work written to revisit the style of Leclair and Couperin; to communicate affection for Debussy's early work in a reference to the song Fantoches, and to revel in the light and shade of the expressive union between the cello and the piano.

Thedéen treated the audience to  a solo performance of Sculthorpe's Requiem in a tribute to the composer before surrendering himself to a passionate and dramatic interpretation of Grieg's Cello Sonata in A Minor, Op.36. This work was written in an attempt to heal the rift between Grieg and his brother John who was a fine cellist.

While the music failed to bring about a reconciliation, it remains as a vehicle for instrumentalists to prove their mettle, and both Selby and Thedéen rose to the occasion.

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