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Festival review: Natalie Clein & Katya Apekisheva

Adelaide Festival

In a remarkable evening of music, lauded British cellist Natalie Clein and the acclaimed Russian pianist Katya Apekisheva brought their brilliant skills together to create an enchanting experience.

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Clein demonstrates the vocality of the cello, its almost human qualities of expression, with great flair. She is keenly aware of the musician’s contract with the audience, the trust that each must fulfil in bringing about satisfying engagement.

The proficiency and passion with which Clein and Apekisheva interpret a wide-ranging selection of pieces proves immensely satisfying.

This program – presented by Musica Viva as part of the Adelaide Festival program – offered six pieces, including two by female composers. Two others were from Ernest Bloch, but more than 30 years apart in composition and of quite distinctive styles. The periods represented across the program differed considerably, from 1815 to 2019, so the audience certainly could not complain about the variety.

Pace and airiness were features of the Six Studies in English Folk Song (Ralph Vaughan Williams). Clein and Apekisheva immediately showed mastery of these sometimes wistful, sometimes grave pieces, many of which showcased sweet fades.

The first Ernest Bloch work, From Jewish Life, was often plaintive and sorrowful but Clein was also able to extract tenderness and lighter emotion, too.

A highlight was Sonata for Viola (or Cello) and Piano (Rebecca Clarke). Clein referred to French influences and folk melodies before this piece, in which the piano was more prominent. Whether those elements were apparent or not, the three movements were rich and emotional. They comprised very textural work that demonstrated focussed dynamics and flourishes. It was a dense and controlled performance that left this reviewer wanting more.

After the break, it was back to Bloch, but from 1956 rather than 1924. Suite No.1 for Solo Cello was a delight. Its uncluttered intensities and demanding phrasings produced exquisite results, with occasional surprises such as unexpected changes of pace.

The most recent composition was Natalie Williams’ vivacious The Dreaming Land. The South Australian composer herself was on hand to describe something of her process and purpose before it was played. The sonata was quite an achievement—sensuous one minute and taut the next, solemn and heavy, then spare and drawn thin before assuming real vigour. Clein and Apekisheva clearly enjoyed themselves.

A bit of Beethoven to end with? The title is a mouthful – Sonata for Cello and Piano No.4 in C major, Op.102 No.1. This relatively brief piece was full of stop-start motion and piano playing as bright as light on water. To say it was the last is cheating, however, because there was a quick encore; a very moving excerpt from a Rachmaninov piano concerto, with cello.

In all, this concert presented two very accomplished artists showing rare talents in some of the finest chamber music.

Natalie Clein & Katya Apekisheva performed one show only at the Adelaide Town Hall. See more Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.

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