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JAN PALENICEK & JITKA CECHOVA (article first published : 2007-11-8)

Earlier this week, Friends of Music hosted a recital by Jan Palenicek (cello) and Jitka Cechova (piano)

These two Czech musicians provided an evening of superior music played in superior fashion before an enthusiastic Friends of Music audience at the Durban Jewish Centre.

They are an interesting couple: husband and wife, with two young children back home in Prague; Jitka Cechova a tall, elegant, remarkably good-looking young woman, Jan Palenicek a burly, commanding personality who looks rather as if he were a Springbok rugby forward who had decided to take up culture.

Both showed themselves to be superb artists, the cellist playing with a big, bold tone and great technical prowess, the pianist outstanding in technique and in judgment of the dynamics of duo playing.

Their programme was one for the connoisseur: Schumannís three Fantasiestucke Op. 73, Brahmsís Sonata in F major, Op. 99, BeethovenísSonata in A major, Op. 69 and Martinuís Variations on a Slovak Theme.

The three Schumann pieces are lovely and not often played. Likewise the big Brahms sonata, in which the cellist showed the unusual power of his playing, particularly in some memorable pizzicato passages.

Beethoven wrote five sonatas for cello and piano, and the Op. 69 is the best of them, and possibly the greatest piece in the entire repertory for these two instruments. It was played with great eloquence, with absolute clarity and with fine balance between the two performers.

The Variations by their twentieth century compatriot, Bohuslav Martinu, are colourful, exotic and brilliant, to some extent folk music in modern dress, and they brought forth more outstanding playing from cellist and pianist.

All this excellence came with a refreshing absence of pomp and pretension. It was a warm night, and Jan Palenicek had to pause several times between movements to mop his head and pass his spectacles to his wife at the keyboard for a quick polishing. And a ringing cellphone at one point did not disturb their composure; they smiled and waited patiently for the noise to subside.

Their encore maintained the high tone of the evening: Ravelís Habanera. The prelude performer, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust, was yet another gifted young musician of eastern origin: a 12-year-old violinist, Yeakyung Kim, from Durban Girlsí College, who, accompanied by Gerhard Geist, showed skill and confidence in three brief items. - Michael Green




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