Christian Poltéra (cello, above), Kathryn Stott (piano, below)
Prokofiev Cello Sonata in C major Op.119 (1949)
Chopin Cello Sonata in G minor Op.65 (1845-6)
Wigmore Hall, Monday 13 February 1pm
by Ben Hogwood
Christian Poltéra and Kathryn Stott are a long-established duo who have provided us with a richly rewarding discography including works by Fauré, Saint-Saëns, Barber and Schumann. Their encounters with Russian music appear to have been less frequent to date, and it was good to hear their poised account of one of the form’s most popular works. Ukrainian-born Prokofiev wrote his sonata, a late work, for Mstislav Rostropovich, who had impressed him with his larger than life playing. It is the first of a late burst of works for the instrument, including the Sinfonia Concertante, Solo Cello Sonata and Concertino.
Poltéra began the sonata with a solemn intonation on the lowest register of the cello, emphasising the ‘grave’ aspect of Prokofiev’s tempo marking rather than going for an epic sound. This thoughtful approach bore fruit in the slower sections, and with Stott an attentive partner there was plenty to enjoy in Prokofiev’s baleful writing, and impressive clarity in the more expansive passages.
The second movement danced attractively, tapping into Prokofiev’s ballet credentials, with some enjoyable exchanges between the two, if not always making the most of the composer’s frequently humourous asides. The third movement sang out more, Poltéra projecting further without losing any of his admirable control or intonation, and Stott getting to the heart of Prokofiev’s combination of percussive cut and thrust and soft-centred lyricism.
Chopin’s Cello Sonata came as something of a surprise to his fellow composers in the mid-1840s. Written for the French cellist Auguste Franchomme, it is a substantial work, which unsurprisingly asks a great deal of the pianist in a full-bodied, almost orchestral role.
Poltéra it was who led the first movement most impressively, with a consistently attractive sound singing subtly but meaningfully. Technically he is a superb cellist, with tone unflinching, but praise should be levelled at Stott’s ability to bring beautiful phrasing to even the most congested piano writing. The searching legato theme in the second movement was a case in point for the cellist, beautifully played with flowing piano figures. The lovelorn third movement was tinged with sadness, finishing lost in thought. The last movement showed determination to break from this soul searching, looking outward as it powered through to a major key finish.
This was an excellent performance, ideally balanced and capturing the right balance of regret and resolve – and was balanced by the encore, Saint-Saëns’ Romance in F major Op.42. A Monday lunchtime treat.
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