McDermott excels with Brahms Sonata

A recital last evening at the Teachers Training College gave many persons their first opportunity of hearing cellist John McDermott since his return to Bulawayo.

His performance of Brahms’ E. minor Sonata had unusual integrity. After an unsteady start, he held with unerring concentration to the eloquent, lamenting quality which marks this piece, and his reading of the first movement, particularly, was singularly affecting.

Hugh Fenn’s positive account of the piano part contributed to a remarkably well-integrated performance.

I am not sure though, whether it does not pay the artists to ignore Brahms’ marking (allegretto quasi menuetto) and treat the second movement as a scherzo.

Less successful

If – as they did – the performers adhere to Brahms’ instruction, the movement tends to drag, and there is little meaningful contrast when the middle section arrives. At the best of times, the transition to this section sounds adventitious.

Beethoven’s C major Sonata, Op. 102 No. 1, was generally less successful. The lyrical interchanges between cello and piano came off well, but cello intonation in the finale was seldom secure enough to allow the music to romp home with the exalted confidence which transfigures Beethoven’s late music.

Diana Cowan (soprano) was in splendid form. Singing well within the limits of her voice and technique, she characterized a varied programme with strength and with fine-grained sensitivity. Her singing of Break in Grief from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion was controlled and powerful. Equally vivid, in a different way, were Brahm’s Il est dans la vallee.

Mary Jordan accompanied her with customary finesse.

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