Natalie Clein

Holy Trinity Church

By Spencer Allman

On the penultimate day of the Three Choirs Festival, eminent cellist Natalie Clein gave a programme of works that spanned the 20th century. And not just in terms of period, but also style.

Clein’s partner at the keyboard was the prize-winning Norwegian pianist, Håvard Gimse.

They began with Debussy’s cello sonata. Towards the end of his life, the French composer embarked on a series of compositions for chamber ensembles, including this piece written in 1915. Despite what would appear to be a more abstract alternative to his impressionistic works, the sonata summons up certain images that were brought very much to life by these gifted players.

The somewhat unusual programming meant that next up were three short works by the Hungarian composer Kurtág. These exercises in silence and minimalism – in scope rather than in style – were performed with a studied integrity by the cellist, playing solo.

The first was dedicated to John Cage, whose musical celebrity is very much based on the importance of the notion of silence in music. Though conceived in a modernist framework, however, Kurtág’s melodic gestures and quasi-tonal approach presented no daunting challenge for the listener, and were somewhat banal.

The next work, Britten’s cello sonata, was a return to comparative rowdiness and a hint of drama. Britten, like Debussy, is not associated with purely abstract music, but the titles of the movements (‘Dialogo’, Elegia’, etc.), as well as the writing itself, suggested a series of mini-narratives. The individual talents of the duo were well matched in this cleverly scored piece.

The second part of the concert was devoted to just one work: Rachmaninov’s cello sonata in G minor. It has echoes of the popular Second Piano Concerto, written around the same time. The music, uneven though it is, expresses a range of emotions, and both Clein and Gimse played with exuberance and a sense of delicacy.

Natalie Clein is famous for her warmth of tone, and the audience at Hereford’s Holy Trinity church were not let down in this respect. She exudes confidence and flair.

Håvard Gimse’s playing was meticulous in the detail, at times somehow conveying an intimacy of its own.