Monday 2 September 2019

One Encore Away From A Vacation

Johannes Moser B&W photo from Pentatone website to illustrate Sydney recital review September 2019
Johannes Moser wields the Tool of his Trade
Photo credit: via Pentatone 

So did sayeth the superb German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser at the end of our recital at the Utzon Room one Sunday afternoon in August. Well, he did say that it was in fact his 1694 Andrea Guarneri Cello that did demand the 10-day vacation at the end of his tour, and he was just going to be obliging. (Of course, in true Pipistrello fashion, that holiday has now been & gone, obv!)

And if only such aged instruments could speak, Dear Reader, beyond Yippee, I'm on Holiday!, they would have an awful lot to tell. Meanwhile, Two-Peas & I instead heard Very Fine Music being coaxed and conjured from this cello, to the equally delightful accompaniment of the British pianist, Kathryn Stott.

Sydney Cove & Farm Cove flanking Bennelong Point,
Whereon the future Opera House is to lay, but in 1909 is yet a twinkle in the eye of Utzon 

I've been a little remiss in keeping our irregular Utzon Sundays posted about these pages this year, but be assured they've been a typical gladbag of musical wonders. The past two recitals Mr P. has been otherwise engaged so I've been able to Treat-a-Friend, and it was the turn of Two-Peas on this wintery day to partake with me of the Opera House coffee-&-finger-sandwiches-lunch followed by a glass of bubbles, harbour views and excellent music.

Fort Denison, 1923
George F. Harris
Image credit: State Library of NSW

Outside, the gale-force winds were taking a breather and there was reasonable tranquility on the harbour, and in spite of it being 'flu season, there were no hacking coughs and we were only to endure one Senior in our midst doing the slow-motion grapple with a cellophane wrapper on a sweet. We have a new security regime at the Opera House entry whereby our bags are put through an X-ray machine but honestly, what they really should do is pat you down for any noisy luncheon and treats wrappers. Anyhoo, enough tch-ing and stern looks ... to the music: Before launching into the main meal of our Sonatas, we were delighted by Beethoven's lilting and joyous "love letter to Mozart", Seven Variations on 'Bei Männern, welche Liebe Fühlen', WoO46, from Mozart's The Magic Flute.

The Bridge, October 1929
Adelaide Perry
Image credit: AGNSW

And then onto one of Moser's "favourite pieces", the 1934 Cello Sonata in D minor, Op.40 by Shostakovich. Some energetic shredding of the bow in the second movement and the lively piano accompaniment led to breakout applause before the more melancholy Largo. Then it picked up again while some occasional flashes of light off the stern of a passing sailing boat or catching on the white render of distant apartment blocks seen through the Utzon Room's wall of windows joined in with the exuberant playing. A little bit of finger-plucking even added a nightclubiness to the last phrases of this 1934 piece, so evocative of a Jazz-era club scene à la P.G. Wodehouse. Although the composer wasn't to know that his work was to be denounced by Pravda two years later, this piece "hints at dark times to come" but retains a "certain optimism with Russia's future", Moser tells us when he stopped for a little chat.

Olde Ferry on Sydney Harbour
Photo credit: Australian National Maritime Museum

Then the recital was rounded out by Brahms 1860s Sonata for Cello and Piano No.1 in E minor, Op.38. Again, a perfect pairing with our transfixing view across Farm Cove to Fort Denison (the same vintage as the sonata) and Mrs Macquarie's Chair. Contrapuntal is the name of the game here: there is the alternate satin and suede patchwork reflecting the scudding clouds and winds across the water; some melancholic moments to match the drear day then the late afternoon winter light picks out the white register of some surface-skimming seagulls and the Deco-yellow of the tiny suburban ferries and the 19th Century sandstone of Fort Denison are rendered a brilliant gold as the "voluptuous fugue" of the third movement sees Moser's bow ending in tatters!

All very exciting and enormously enjoyable, then Johannes tells us he's "one encore away from a vacation". So after a little bit of Rachmaninoff, his twinkling patent leather shoes and Kathryn's rhinestone & gilt-edged court shoes skip off the stage and Moser's cello gets its wish.


  1. It sounds like a divine concert. I studied piano for 15 years, stopped taking lessons when I was in my final year at Uni and have never played it since. Truth be told, it was not something I enjoyed doing. Repeating a piece of music over and over to play it perfectly was not my cup of tea. But, I love hearing other people play their instruments. I appreciate the time and effort it takes for them to be on a stage and perfectly deliver the works of the great composers. They have me in awe.

  2. Oh, it was, Loree! We were so lucky to hear him play. One of my neighbours, a former professional flautist, was also there and she said that he is probably considered the "best in the world right now". I've no musical skill at all but am also in awe of the boundless talent around us. 15 years of study means you'd still be playing scales in your dreams!

  3. If only more concert reviews were like this one. You have motivated me to find a concert series and sign up for the whole thing, in order to not let them come and go, overtaken by lesser events.
    I love cello. My mother played, though I never heard her play it--she gave it up when she married. Not any easy instrument to lug around on a bus.

  4. Oh, FranceTaste, do just that! So happy to have inspired you. There must be plenty of evocative venues in your neck of the woods to hear some gorgeous music. I remember chancing tickets to a chamber quartet playing in a tiny church in Venice on my only visit a million years ago. It was a wintery and foggy night and the church was lit only by candles. The whole atmosphere was properly divine!

    The subscription for this series comes up around Xmas and I leave it to Mr P to choose, with a bit of tweaking from moi, as we don't go for everything, and it becomes our Xmas present to one another. We always see the cellists as we both love cello, too (tho' these days I'm having a love affair with the harpsichord but that only gets heard at the Xmas concert we go to). Then the tickets get put aside and we don't peek again at what's coming up for each programme until the concert rolls around, so it's usually a big surprise. Admittedly, one cannot foresee how the year unfolds and we sometimes have to give away tickets but that's life.

    It's such a strangely old-fashioned idea, women setting aside a skill or passion when marriage rolls around. Such a shame you never got to glimpse that side of her life. And no, not an easy thing to lug about.

  5. I am pea green with envy. A cello concert to die for -- and a review written with outrageous flair!

  6. Outrageous flair? One must make up for the shortcomings of having no musical flair, haha!...I think pea green is a pretty colour, stringfingers. Yet you will still get the reminder notice for when the new programme comes out, have no fear. And so nice to see you around these pages again!

  7. SO, YOU are NOT MUSICAL AT ALL?I read your response to LOREE!
    My ACUPUNCTURIST plays the Violin!I actually went to see him last year in concert.
    A very enjoyable afternoon!Although, its hard for me to be inside on a nice day!

  8. Not solving any Crimes tho', Contessa! ... No, sadly, any fledging musical talent was left firmly behind with the Recorder in primary school. I've had similar struggles with learning another language, which is a bit odd given that the Theory is that music, languages and mathematics go hand in hand. I guess I should be grateful that one of the three came easily ... although that's another Skill that if you don't use it you lose it, which I'm guilty of!!

  9. Pipistrello
    You write beautifully and are so descriptive that it’s easy to visualise being at the same concert or in the same environment!
    I thoroughly enjoy your blogs and the variety of subjects.
    The hair story was very tongue-in-cheek and funny. Also, a very sweet image of you and your Mum.

  10. Why thank you, Anon, for your lovely compliment! And welcome to these pages. I'm very happy to hear you enjoy the little diversions here!


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