Home Hill Winery
Pianist Ying Ho and cellist Jonathan Békés' extraordinary recital was a gift. There was so much to love about this duo it’s difficult to know where to start. They had a unanimity of conception throughout, and an extraordinary level of communication. Both players had a wonderful sense of foreground and background; they switched from one to the other so seamlessly, it almost seemed balletic at times.
Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces opened the programme. Békés and Ho gave us a beautifully understated opening that then seemed to blossom from the heart with beautifully nuanced phrasing, and a wonderful feeling for the sometimes fragmentary nature of the music.
The duo followed this with the 5th movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Praise to the eternity of Jesus. Békés spoke beautifully and profoundly about what it might mean to be writing music from a concentration camp, and as I listened I marvelled at the resilience of the human spirit, that can produce such beauty and religious devotion amidst such adversity. The movement was, in fact, a sort of extended prayer, moving from the intimacy of a whisper to outpourings of heartfelt passion. Both players had an extraordinarily beautiful array of tonal colours at their disposal that seemed to encompass every possible expression of the human condition. Soaring cello phrases underpinned by heavy piano chords added a solemnity that gave a sense of the magnitude of the wartime experience. This was a performance that spoke to my soul.
Tchrepnin’s Cello Sonata no 1 was an intriguing work, very Russian in both character and emotion. There was considerable virtuosity from both players, and much dialogic writing that highlighted their outstanding rapport. Particularly noteworthy was the lower register of the cello, which somehow encapsulated the Slavic essence of the work.
The concert finished with Grieg’s Cello Sonata, an emotionally charged work full of contrasts. It is music on a grand scale and Békés and Ho rose to the challenge in style. They appeared to master the technical difficulties with supreme ease, while the towering emotions were given their full weight, and took the audience on a roller coaster of vividly felt experience.
The most remarkable thing about this young duo was the sense I had that it was really all about the music, and individual egos took a back seat. This is a rare quality in performers, and gives the audience a feeling of truly entering the minds and hearts of composers. This concert was a gift, and I feel truly blessed to have been there.
Jo St Leon
ABC Limelight Magazine, 22 February 2019
Riversdale Estate, Cambridge
A beautiful sunny spring morning at Riverside Estate with its picturesque surrounds was a perfect setting for a string quartet playing Schubert and Shostakovich. Violist William Newbery introduced the performance by the ensemble that also comprised violinists Yue-Hong Cha and Frances Davies, with cellist Martin Penicka.
‘Der Tod und das Mädchen (The Death and the Maiden) D 531 (1817)’ is a song setting by Franz Schubert of the poem by German poet Matthias Claudius. It was played in an instrumental version as a prelude to a performance of the composer’s great quartet of the same title (No. 14, D 810) written in 1724.
These players gave an essentially intense, tough account of the outer movements thus serving to heighten appreciation for the rhythmic structure of this expansive work. A traditional ‘Viennese’ approach can sometimes overdo the charm and sweetness to the detriment of such powerful music based as it is on a rather grim subject. However, these accomplished musicians were careful to provide refinement and warmth of expression in the eloquent five variations that constitute the second movement derived from Schubert’s earlier song. The scherzo was a nice blend of energy and contrasting grace in the trio section.
Shostakovich’s rarely heard ‘Two Pieces for String Quartet (1931)’ ended the program. The first was an arrangement of Katrina’s hauntingly vivid scene 3 aria from the opera ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, Op 29’. The second piece, the polka from the ballet ‘The Golden Age, Op 22’, successfully provided a comical, light-hearted, but technically challenging finale. The players certainly rose to the occasion much to the audience’s delight!
TSO WEEKLY WRAP 20 September 2019
Home Hill Winery, Ranelagh
A capacity audience enjoyed this first class chamber music concert in the congenial surrounds of Home Hill Winery. The distinguished line-up of performers was Jennifer Owen and Ambra Nesa (violins), Douglas Coghill (viola), Sue-Ellen Paulsen and Jonathan Békés (cellos).
The magnificent Schubert String Quintet in C major D 956 was the primary focus here. Taking advantage of the availability of the additional cello required for that work, the program opened with the slow movement from Anton Arensky’s String Quartet No 2 in A minor Op 35. The scoring unusually features a quartet with two cellos and only one violin. Dedicated to the memory of Tchaikovsky it was composed a year after his death in 1893, utilising one of his melodies, and was later arranged for full string orchestra as Variations on a theme by Tchaikovsky. The movement’s charm and melodious appeal was fully conveyed by these players in an affectionate and elegant rendition.
One of those marvellously expansive masterworks produced in the last months of his short life in 1828, the Schubert Quintet was given warmth, control and fine ensemble, while omitting the first movement exposition repeat. The dream-like Adagio had an ethereal, inward quality and sense of communion that was totally engrossing. Indeed, these instrumentalists managed great eloquence and concentration throughout, especially telling in quieter introspective moments such as the Trio from the Scherzo.
24 November, 2019