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FRIENDS OF MUSIC: VIVA BAROQUE CELLO (article first published : 2008-04-14)

Most of the programme was a step into the eighteenth century, but there were two works that belonged very much to the twenty-first. And to some degree the star of the evening was an instrument rather than a player.

Viva Baroque Cello was the cheerful title chosen by the three players for their unusual recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

Most of the programme was a step into the eighteenth century, but there were two works that belonged very much to the twenty-first. And to some degree the star of the evening was an instrument rather than a player.

An interesting story, this. About 30 years ago an unknown tramp found the dilapidated body of a cello in a rubbish heap at Paarl, in the Western Cape. Recognising that it might be of value, he took it to two local residents who passed it on to an expert whom they happened to know. This person, Bill Robson, took some time to begin the job of restoration. When he did so, he found that this seemed to be a rare eighteenth century instrument designed for five strings (instead of the usual four), of a type devised by Johann Sebastian Bach to bridge the gap in pitch between a cello and a viola.

This cello was played in the recital by Pretoria–born Hans Huyssen, who is a cellist, composer, conductor and teacher of music. He was very much the dominant personality in this recital, musically and verbally (he spoke at length several times about the music).

The eighteenth century works were played in the style of the period, with Piet van Rooyen of Bloemfontein supplying a basso continuo, a kind of basic accompaniment, on a second cello. The keyboard role was performed by Andrew Cruickshank of Johannesburg at a harpsichord built in South Africa with a kit imported from the United States.

The main items were two of Bach’s three sonatas for cello and keyboard instrument (usually the piano these days). These are quite well-known and of exceptional musical quality and range, from the eloquent opening Adagio of the G major sonata to the irresistible vigour of the second movement of the D major sonata. Expertly played and most enjoyable (though I think that most people would prefer to hear a piano rather than the thin sound of the tiny, box-like harpsichord).

Still in the eighteenth century, the players performed a fine Sonata in E minor, RV 40 by Vivaldi and a Sonata in G major by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier. The latter was something of a revelation. Boismortier, who lived and worked in France in the first half of the eighteenth century, is almost forgotten these days, but here was a delightful piece with a warm, romantic sound and plenty of interesting ideas.

The modern items were compositions by two of the performers. Hans Huyssen played his own piece for solo cello called Ugubhu, a representation of traditional African music with strong, basic rhythms and brief fragments of melody.

Andrew Cruickshank moved from the harpsichord to a piano to play his Kwela of Rhythm. I seem to remember that the township kwela provided some well-known pop tunes thirty or forty years ago. This piece is nothing like that at all. It is stark, angular and aggressively modern in manner. Interesting and quite impressive, but I can’t see them whistling it in the taxis of Soweto.

The prelude performer of the evening was a capable young recorder player, Michael Loubser of Durban High School. Accompanied by Bobby Mills, he played music by Sammartini (Giuseppe, I think; there were two brothers, Giuseppe and Giovanni, both composers in the eighteenth century) and by Telemann and York Bowen. - Michael Green




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