RSNO Chamber: Cello Jewels

RSNO Centre, Glasgow

This showcase for the RSNO’s principal cello Aleksei Kiseliov – in the no less significant company of pianist Alasdair Beatson – is as superb an example of online chamber music in this time-of-the-virus as you will find anywhere. Even the slightly cheesy title that it has been given seems fitting by its end.

As Kiseliov makes clear in the first of his wonderfully lucid and well-expressed spoken additions to the film, it is a carefully considered product of this era. The two musicians had the luxury of proper rehearsal time together to prepare in the venue where they would perform, but the performance itself is presented “as live” with no edits at all. The camera-work is unfussy but brings the listener closer to the players, while the sound, captured by BBC Radio 3 for future broadcast, is very much of a live event, the microphones not too close to the instruments and the ambient acoustic very much part of the experience.

The programme itself is quite brilliantly constructed and thought through, the story it tells being one of the cello and its virtuosi and the composers who knew them and wrote for them.

Mozart must not have had a particularly close cellist associate, because there is nothing from him for the cello soloist, but Beethoven made up for that with his 12 variations on one of Papageno’s songs from The Magic Flute, Ein Madchen ober Weibchen, for cello and piano. This is the young Beethoven at his lighter, show-off, best (even on the minor-key variations), although arguably it is the piano that has the more sparkling music.

The composer’s Cello Sonata No 5, from 17 years later, is a work of challenging complexity by comparison. Its dedicatee, and Beethoven’s sometime patron, Countess Anna Marie von Erdody, must have been a very fine pianist to partner Schuppanzigh Quartet cellist Joseph Linke for its first performance. Kiseliov and Beatson are an exemplary partnership here, the skipping phrases in the central Adagio answering the piano with perfect poise, and the transition into the Allegro finale simply glorious.

Following that with Richard Strauss’s Cello Sonata in F from 1883 is inspired on many levels, even if the work was entirely new to Kiseliov. The 19-year-old Strauss is audibly still under the influence of Beethoven – as well as Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn – but there are also pre-echoes of his tone poems and the solos for cello in those orchestral works. And in the operatic “singing material” for the instrument that Kiseliov identifies in his introduction, there is a clear link with the work that opens the programme.

The Sonata was written for Strauss’s friend, the Czech cellist Hanus Wihan, then working in Munich, who was also a chum of Antonin Dvorak and dedicatee of his 1894 Cello Concerto, a cornerstone of the orchestral repertoire for the instrument. The short piece sometimes played as an encore to that work, Dvorak’s Waldesruhe, brings this recital to a close. It is the ideal conclusion to the concert’s narrative, and an excellent excuse to hear it in the piano and cello arrangement, with both Beatson and Kiseliov taking the opportunity to fully explore its lyrical charm.

Keith Bruce 

Available to view via