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Proms 2011 – Yo-Yo Ma & Kathryn Stott

Yo-Yo Ma

By Chris Caspell

For all the grandeur and status that the Royal Albert Hall brings to the BBC Proms, some music is better suited to the more intimate setting of Cadogan Hall. In this recital, the seventh of eight Proms Chamber Music concerts, Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott played music that took little effort to enjoy.

Graham Fitkin’s L was commissioned by Stott as a present for Ma on his fiftieth birthday. L is the Roman for 50 and for the composer, “L is for line, for lust, life and longing.” Stott is a champion of Fitkin’s music. From the start her nimble fingers deftly executed the rhythmic episodes that surround the melodic heart of the piece. Ma was no slouch either – his cello spike shook with the force of his bow hitting the strings. Afterwards the composer spoke about L, saying that it was written as a surprise for the cellist. The piece has developed in the hands of these performers since its composition in 2005. Its approachability should make L an attractive addition to any cello and piano programme. Fitkin described L as “kitsch, brutal and sensual”, but for the second and third pieces in the recital ‘kitsch’ alone will suffice. Bodas de prate (Silver Wedding) and Quatro cantos (Four corners) is a collaboration between the Brazilian composers Egberto Gismonti and Geraldo Carneiro. Where Fitkin’s music was precise this was wispy and impressionistic and leaning too much towards over-sentimentality. The jazz-influenced arpeggios in the piano were handled with due reverence by Stott but it’s hard to take this music too seriously.

Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata was completed in November 1901 and first performed by its dedicatee, Anatoliy Brandukov and the composer in the December. It is the composer’s final chamber work and was written soon after the premiere of his Second Piano Concerto. After twenty-five years of performing together, the synergy between these Ma and Stott was supremely evident, changes of tempo and style negotiated with no apparent effort and without eye-contact. If there was a zone to be in, they were. The enquiring opening movement leads into a sprightly scherzando second without giving the audience time to applaud. The “oh-too-easy-sentimentality” that Rachmaninov railed against was kept in check while every drop of passion that he boxed up inside the music was wrung out. Only in the third-movement Andante did the magic momentarily falter as the melody in the piano right-hand became a little abrasive on this very resonant Steinway grand. The finale enjoyed a bravura conclusion.

After the sign-off to BBC Radio 3 listeners, there was another South American treat for those in the hall, the theme from Roland Joffé’s 1986 film The Mission, which has been done to death through arrangements and recordings, but the charming simplicity of the central melody in the sensitive delivery of Yo-Yo Ma was a perfect ending.