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St John's, Smith Square, London 19 October 2004

J.S. Bach Gamba Sonata in D BWV 1028; Fantasia and fugue in C minor BWV 562 Britten Second Suite

A week of fine lunch-time events and of class cellists, who abound these days (Wallfisch at Blackheath and Lidstrom at Wigmore Hall).

It has been a pleasure to follow Alice Neary's career since her memorable appearance as a Park Lane Group Young Artist in 2000 and later as cellist of the Gould Piano Trio.

This series of three joint recitals is a marvellously inventive project by Alice with her famous father, one time organist of Westminster Abbey. The Bach sonatas are performed more infrequently than the solo suites (as is the case for Britten too). Martin Neary in his notes reminds us that the first of them was originally a trio for flutes and continuo; in all three long notes suit the organ well, and this was proved abundantly with a delicate and quiet-toned Mander chamber organ (one keyboard, no pedal-board) at St John's.

Balance is a little problematic (would it be better with gamba instead of cello?) and the angled position chosen allowed Alice to hear the organ and I chose a seat from which I could see both father and daughter, and their watchfulness resulting in perfect ensemble and a delectable experience. (Those facing the organ directly towards them will have had a good balance, but been unable to see Martin Neary, a pity in a live situation. Certainly a broadcast would be unproblematic and desirable, possibly followed by CD recording?

Alice by herself gave one of the most complete and involving performances of the Britten No 2 that I've heard. She was completely at ease and able to concentrate wholly on musical values. The definition of strands in the quirky fugue was masterly, as was the melodic growth of the Andante lento, in which the accompanying pizzicato grows and takes over towards the end. The rough scherzo (ruvido) was a reminder that the suite was written for the larger-than-life Rostropovich.

Finally, Martin Neary retired upstairs and played the Bach Fantasia and fugue with judiciously restrained choice of stops; the Klais organ (1993) can be a formidable beast when it is allowed to let rip!

Londoners within reach should try to get to the last of the series for a quite unusual lunchtime recital.

ALICE and MARTIN NEARY will be playing J.S. Bach Gamba Sonata in G minor BWV1029; Fantasia in G BWV582; Fantasia in C minor BWV537 Britten Third Suite at St John's, Smith Square, 1 p.m. 2nd November.


© Peter Grahame Woolf