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Schumann; Prokofiev; Rachmaninov

Thomas Carroll cello
Anthony Hewitt piano

Schumann Phantasiestücke, op. 73
Prokofiev Cello Sonata in C, op. 119
Rachmaninov Cello Sonata in G minor, op. 19

Blackheath Great Hall, London 27 May 2007

Repeating a programme given in Birmingham last January, Thomas Carroll and Anthony Hewitt make a perfectly attuned duo; new to me, but each boasting an impressive CV as long as your arm.

It was a special occasion for Blackheath Sundays in two respects. Carroll, with prescience of forethought, had the venue moved downstairs to the floor of the Great Hall, which had been occasionally used with notable success in the past*. The tones of his fine cello and the Steinway blossomed, and with a more informal semi-circular layout - sideways on in the length of the hall - (with more legroom than upstairs) the audience was generally pleased by the change.

Thomas Carroll has commanding authority in his playing and their ensemble was of split second unanimity, with intuitively shared phrasing and rapport; the music had been fully internalised and they were making music far beyond realising the written scores.

Anthony Hewitt is undemonstrative but, sitting low to assist relaxation of his hands, he maintained unforced virtuosity and accuracy in a programme which was particularly demanding for the pianist. After Schumann (cello version of a clarinet original) it was good to have the two major Russian sonatas in juxtaposition. In excellent programme notes (by the artists?) we were warned that the C major tonality is largely "a polite fiction"; the score "peppered with accidentals". Less abrasive is Rachmaninov's expansive sonata - in the lengthy final movement he spurns several opportunities to bring it to a finish - the singing tone of Carroll's cello supported by the ceaseless figuration of the piano part made for an irresistibly compelling mixture.

The second respect in which this was an unique Blackheath event was that at the end, poised to commence their encore, it transpired that the cello part was missing. After urgent discussion in great good humour, Thomas Carroll retreated, leaving the coast clear for Anthony Hewitt to delight us solo with as elegant and expressive account of Chopin's most popular Nocturne as you are ever likely to hear. An unforgettable morning.

Peter Grahame Woolf

You can sample on line Carroll playing Brahms at http://www.ycat.co.uk/artistdetail.asp?ID=18

*q.v. "Andreas Boyde should consider the possibility of continuing his Brahms series in the the Great Hall? With the seating arranged in a semi-circle it is possible to create a feeling of intimacy, encouraging for performers, even when the audience is a small one."