Concert Review: piano-cello duo electrifies

dyachvkov and saulnierBy Jim Leonard – a special review for The Vernon Morning Star

The North Okanagan Community Concert Association (NOCCA) kicked off its season Thursday September 22nd with a rapturous performance by cellist Yegor Dyachkov and pianist Jean Saulnier.

Saulnier began by commenting, “this is not a cello accompanied by piano concert. We are equal partners in the music we have chosen.”

He and Dyachkov proceeded to demonstrate exactly what that statement meant.

The Five Pieces in Folk Style Opus 102 by Robert Schumann was played with great sensitivity. Both players were careful not to assert their part over the other.

Schumann cleverly wrote the music to portray: “With Humour; Slowly; Not Fast; Not Too Surprising and Strong and Marked.” The duo brought these titled works to life.

Brahms wrote his Sonata in E minor Opus 38 for an advanced amateur cellist. It was in three movements: Allegro ma non troppo (Lively but not too much so); Allegro quasi Menuetto – Trio (Lively in the style of a minuet with contrasting trio) and Allegro. Even though the title seemed to indicate a cello sonata accompanied by piano; this was not the case.

The most interesting part of this sonata was the last movement, which contained a fugue (a complex round). The fugue was Brahm’s homage to J.S. Bach’s masterwork The Art of the Fugue. It had the style of Bach’s fugal writing. The notes were passed seamlessly between the piano and cello and gave the impression of a much larger ensemble.

After intermission came Dimitri Shostakovich’s Sonata in D minor.

Throughout the four movements the moods oscillated between miserable, hopeful and urgent. Shostakovitch’s Russia was ruled by the tyrant and mass murderer Joseph Stalin. Stalin banned Shostakovitch’s music, calling it “chaos instead of music.” To the uninitiated, the melodies and harmony may have been too restless.

This listener enjoyed some of the other techniques involved in playing a cello throughout the sonata: pizzicato (plucking the strings instead of bowing them), applying a mute to the bridge of the cello, and portamento (sliding the fingers up and down the fingerboard while bowing). The virtuosic piano part was played brilliantly with the cello following suit.

After a standing ovation, the duo offered a short, quiet encore: Sappiche Ode by Brahms, a perfect end to a wonderful concert.

As is customary at NOCCA concerts, some young up-and-coming talent was also featured. The cello duo of Anastasia Martens and Holly McCallum (both in their early teens) presented some Bach arranged for two cellos.

Both girls showed their abilities and confidence in their playing. Their sound was warm and large and their ensemble playing was excellent.

Watch out world!

The next NOCCA concert is October 29, 2016 featuring pianist Ian Parker and the “new” (1979) Hamburg Steinway grand piano. It will be a gala event where everyone is invited to dress “to the nines” in formal wear. Check out NOCCA’s website, or facebook for the latest news and reviews. Lastly,  many thanks to the NOCCA organization for bringing such stellar talent to the North Okanagan!

Guest reviewer Jim Leonard is a Vernon-based pianist, organist and composer.