Raphael Wallfisch (cello) and John York (piano)

Chamber music is, by definition, intended for friends – to play as performers and to enjoy as listeners – but nowadays economics often necessitate a large concert hall in order to defray costs and a subsequent loss of ambience. Last Wednesday the members of Strathearn Music Society (all the best of pals, aren’t we!) enjoyed the very best of both worlds in the intimate surroundings of St Andrew’s Halls, when cellist Raphael Wallfisch and pianist John York visited Crieff as part of a mini-tour to celebrate their 35 years as a performing duo.

It goes without saying that this pair must know each other pretty well, and indeed their playing bore all the hallmarks of a relaxed and mellow familiarity, both with each other and with their music. Three of the core cello and piano sonata classics, all in a more-or-less romantic mould, formed the entire evening’s programme, which glowed from beginning to end with warmth and passion.

The arpeggione was a hybrid instrument whose rise and demise took place within a relatively short period during the nineteenth century, leaving a vacuum which has since been amicably scrapped over by viola players and cellists alike. Schubert’s great work for this musical curiosity is simply one of his radiant miracles of composition: we know he was one of the greatest melodists of all time but, even so, how can one piece of music contain so many wonderful tunes? Whichever of our modern-day stringed instruments is used to recreate this unique piece, it poses equally unique technical difficulties for the player, but in the hands of Raphael Wallfisch and his glorious 18th century Italian cello it flowed from phrase to phrase with limpid ease. It’s a piece that unashamedly places the piano in a generally subservient role to the florid fantasies of the cello, but with Brahms’ E minor cello sonata, John York came fully into his own, rising with mature confidence to all the challenges of drama and idiom which go to make up the language of its creator. A rich and serious main course after the heady delights of Schubert.

César Franck’s Sonata in A has hardly fewer marvellous tunes than the Arpeggione Sonata, and they’re all part of the magnificent architectural sweep of this glorious work. Oh, and it’s only fair to point out that Franck didn’t originally write it for the cello either, but it’s so attractive that it’s irresistible to other string players as well (it’s so good that even flute players – and sometimes saxophonists and others – are not above grabbing a slice of the action here). This version, actually the only alternate sanctioned by the composer, was made by Jules Delsart shortly after its first performance by violin and piano and its place in the cello repertoire is today absolutely unquestioned. In the hands of Wallfisch and York it was as exhilarating an experience as one could hope for. A full-blooded encore from Erich Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt completed an exceptional concert.

SMS is deeply indebted to Mr Martin Boyle, whose generous sponsorship made this concert possible)

Next date: Wed 28 Nov – The Maxwell String Quartet

Howard Duthie