Much of Beethoven’s late music has a private character so marked that the listener feels like an intruder upon some secret ceremony of communion. Thus the explosive opening of the D minor Sonata Op. 102, No. 2 for cello and piano, plunges into the musical drama without regard for the performers’ need to warm up or to have time to cajole the audience into participation.
Zara Nelsova and Grant Johannesen, the visiting cello and piano team who played at the Bulawayo City Hall last night, rose spendidly to the challenge of this intractable, noble music. It took them a short time, it is true, to adjust to the unsympathetic acoustics, but they settled down to an acceptable balance and in the slow movement produced some veiled, intense tone just right for this rapt and introspective dialogue.
They are both artists of uncommon refinement. Zara Nelsova’s fingering and bowing and practically unassailable and her playing is fused with a patrician sort of passion.
At first I thought their opening of the Brahm’s E minor Sonata slightly cool for one of the composer’s most heart-sore themes, but their treatment made total sense when they quietly eased into the second subject with a slight slackening of tempo. The whole performance was integrated and satisfying, and the balance of the final fugue more successful than in Beethoven’s.
They gave a marvelous reading of the Debussy sonata, alive all through to the rapier-quick alternations between irony and compassion of this brilliantly adult work.
The Rachmaninov G minor Sonata is an unabashedly soulful piece. Miss Nelsova tapped unsuspected reserves of tone and temperament and Mr. Johannesen kept the dangerously assertive piano part under sensitive rein.
It added up to an exciting reading, in which neither artist violated the canons of good taste which gave the whole recital a very distinctive character.