By John Brain

It has frequently been stated in recent years that the level of technical accomplishment in the performance of classical music has never been higher but that tone colour is as rare as ever. Well, if this latter observation is true, there are certainly exceptions and never more so than at the Shirehall, Hereford on the afternoon of November 3 when the wonderful Czech duo of Jan Škrdlík (cello) and Petra Besa (piano), on a brief UK tour, brought the beauty of Bach, Haydn, Chopin and Schubert to a rapt audience. The concert opened with Bach’s 2nd Cello Sonata and what clarity these two supreme artists brought to the score. Throughout its four short alternating slow and fast movements, they fully revealed both the irrepressible energy and the sublimity of the work. Though only discovered in 1961, the Haydn C major Cello Concerto that followed has become a mainstay of the repertoire and it was a real revelation to hear it in a cello and piano version. In their expression of unbounded joy in the first movement, rare eloquence and extraordinary poise in the central Adagio and driving passion in the Finale they unveiled the wonder of Haydn’s music without any sense of diminution. After the interval Jan and Petra brought poetry and flamboyance in equal measure to Chopin’s early Introduction and Polonaise leading one to believe that this was far from the minor work that the composer considered it to be. How fitting it was that the concert should finish with Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata in which nothing is overstated, for these two artists really understood Schubert’s inner world, subtle nuance and suggestion taking the place of brilliant declaration, so allowing the members of the audience to exercise their own imagination in hearing Schubert’s wondrous score. This was a transcendental concert that will surely resonate in the hearts of those privileged to be present for a long time to come.