On yet another rare balmy evening, the south transept in Ely Cathedral was the fine backdrop for a performance by pianist Carson Becke and the Jubilee Quartet.
Aged 22, Carson Becke proved himself to be a most talented and adept pianist. He opened the concert with a skilled performance of JS Bach’s “Organ Prelude in G minor BWV 535”, transcribed for piano by Alexander Siloti. The Cathedral’s Steinway was an excellent instrument for Carson’s tremendous power, variety of touch and control. He brought out the strength of Bach’s compositional style, surprising us with his sudden dramatic changes and massive chordal climaxes. His astute musicality also breathed suspense in moments of subtle tension and exquisite anticipation, especially in the opening of the work.
He was joined by Lauren Steel (cello), and together they played Beethoven’s “Sonata for Piano and Cello in A major, op. 69”. They worked as a perfect partnership giving equal value to piano and cello. As Carson said in his short description of the work, the cello was no longer a mere subsidiary to the keyboard, providing a simple bass line for the keyboard player to improvise harmonies above. In this work, the cello had its own part to play complementing the piano.
In the first movement, Allegro ma non tanto, they worked as one, capturing the melancholic colouring of melodic turns, his gentle restrained pauses soon breaking out into his typical tempestuous flourishes. In this movement, particularly, the variation in touch and clarity of articulation in the piano was especially effective.
The second movement, the Scherzo Allegro molto, showed Beethoven’s capacity for humour and playfulness, delightfully exploited by these two talented musicians. A busy texture did nothing to hide the fascinating interweaving of Beethoven’s memorable melodies. In the third and final movement, Adagio Cantablie Allegro Vivace, the quiet opening moved naturally to the rapid allegro in which the fantastic technique of the musicians became particularly evident.
After the interval, The Jubilee Quartet stepped forward and we were treated to a wonderful performance of Dvořák’s “Quintet for Piano and String Quartet in A major, op. 81”. Tereza Privratska (1st violin), Alanna Tonetti-Tieppo (2nd violin), Stephanie Edmundson (viola) and Lauren Steel (cello) took command, and the five performers transfixed listeners with the powerful dynamism of Dvořák’s style. In the first movement, Allegro ma non tanto, the opening bars lulled us into a world of folk-like lyricism. This spell was soon broken as this group attacked with amazing unity and dramatic cohesion.
A more tranquil and steady second movement Dumka: Andante con moto kept the listeners alert with moments of charm and peace that were soon infiltrated with the flavour of folk song with haunting melodies, as well as moments of joy or sudden outbreaks of frenetic excitement. The third movement, Scherzo (Furiant) Molto vivace, was a tantalizingly rapid dance that still managed to infuse within its texture the element of folk song and sudden changeable episodes of quiet expectation. The final movement Finale: Allegro highlighted the instrumentalists’ profound appreciation of the powerful musicality of Dvořák’s writing. Moments of tremendous depth were achieved as these excellent performers captured the intensity of Dvořák’s texture whether intricate, complex or with broad sweeping statements of unfettered expression.
There was no doubt that these wonderful musicians will go far. The three curtain calls demanded by a very enthusiastic audience were a small indication of the brilliant future these performers will undoubtedly enjoy.