Review: Natalie Clein, Cello, Snape Maltings, August 11

An evening of unaccompanied cello music is not necessarily the greatest of attractions but it was perhaps a combination of the reputation of the soloist and a well constructed programme that drew an almost capacity audience to Snape on Friday. Their faith was entirely justified by a recital in which Natalie Clein demonstrated her class, not merely as a fine cellist but as a gifted artist and communicator.

Solo cello implies Bach and nothing could have been better than the noble yet relaxing grandeur of the opening of the G major suite. An intrinsic balance in the music gives it a sense of the infinite alongside an essential simplicity and in this movement Natalie alighted on the essence of great art. To analyse every movement of the two suites would diminish the evening but her performance of the Sarabande of the third suite was quite mesmerising, time stood still and one genuinely regretted the breaking of the spell as the movement closed.

Bach needs no introduction but Sibelius’ Theme and Variations and Kodaly’s Sonata are less familiar and Clein provided engaging yet incisive commentaries prior to both. The Sibelius is an early work but contains inventive use of double stopping and the performance made a strong case for further appearances.

In Kodaly’s Sonata the cello’s two lower strings are each tuned a semitone lower than normal which opens up greater harmonic possibilities. In this work Kodaly makes use of native Hungarian tunes that he and Bartok had gathered in their researches and blends them into a gripping, dynamic whole. Rhythmic pizzicato figures accompany melodies and harsh high notes bring visions of nocturnal disturbances, emphasized by the less predictable harmonies. Natalie gave everything to this performance and the sonata emerged as one of the most compelling works for cello of the last century.

We were treated to an attractive, lightweight encore but the final notes of the Bach suite brought this outstanding recital to a totally appropriate and satisfying conclusion and I needed no more.

Gareth Jones

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