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The Telegraph - 14/03/2016
Jean-Guihen Queyras takes the cello to new territory - review

Jean-Guihen Queyras takes the cello to new territory - review

Instruments tend to be type-cast, and the cellist is often assigned to the corner marked “soulful and introverted”. Top-rank French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras is determined to break out of that. He has been showing us just how vast the cello’s musical personality is, during his current tenure as artist-in-residence at the Wigmore Hall.

In last night’s concert, he and pianist Alexandre Tharaud started at the opposite pole from introversion, with the neo-classical high-jinks of Poulenc’s Suite Française. In its original perky orchestral dress, the music dances with a combination of 18th-century courtliness and pert café-concert wit that Poulenc made all his own. It was hard to imagine it transferred to the more sober palette of cello and piano, but the pair played with such sparkle one hardly noticed the loss.

It was a smart move to put Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne next to the Poulenc. This is based on Italian Baroque originals, so we could savour Stravinsky’s very different, cubist way of bending old originals into new shapes, with here and there a sharply Russian tang. 

Another pleasure was seeing how cleverly Stravinsky re-imagined his orchestral piece, with little touches like sliding gestures in the Serenata (brilliantly thrown off by Queyras), so apt they made you think the piece must have been conceived that way in the first place. In between came five of Manuel de Falla’s Six Popular (i.e. folk) Songs, which demanded a new tone from Queyras, passionate yet unsentimentally flat and almost harsh.

 

All this was wonderful, apart from a tendency on Tharaud’s part to be heavy-handed with the invigorating syncopated notes liberally scattered about. In the second half, things got more classically serious. 

With the lovely timid phrases of Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, the quiet introverted cello came tiptoeing back. The piece was originally conceived for horn, so Queyras was forced to summon a heroic brassy quality – which he did, wonderfully.

Finally came Shostakovich’s great D minor Cello sonata of 1934. This is a whole world unto itself, in terms of expressive range, and the two players were alive to every part of it. The strange mood of the first movement, poised between nostalgia, elegance and spectral menace was so perfectly caught it didn’t seem odd at all. 

The sudden innocence that sweeps over the third movement, and the brilliant high-spirits of the last (Tharaud’s endless ribbons of octaves looping across the music like ticker-tape), all came brilliantly to life.

Jean-Guihen Queyras’ next appearance as Artist in Residence at the Wigmore Hall is on 17 May;  wigmore-hall.org.uk 020 7935 2141 

Iven Hewett
The Telegraph - 14/03/2016