Review: Alban Gerhardt and Steven Osborne at the King’s Hall, May 8, 2019

TO be present at the last concert of the Ilkley Concert Club’s 2018-19 season was to experience a great musical partnership.

Alban Gerhardt (cello) and Steven Osborne (piano) regularly play together and it was easy to sense their rapport in the side-long glances and the quiet smiles that passed between them. They made a great team – introducing the music together with a depth of knowledge, a lightness of touch and just the right level of humour – all in the cause of serious music-making.

They started with Schumann’s ‘Five pieces in popular style’ – a failure in its attempt to provide music for gifted amateurs – for this is virtuosic writing! But both players were fully up to the challenge, the cello fiery in the rapid passage work but tender and lyrical in the delightful melodies, the piano remaining in the background but coming to the fore when it was needed. This level of musicianship continued into Brahms’ F major cello sonata, a ‘meaty’ work with demanding parts for both piano and cello. It was carried off with great panache and enormous energy.

After the interval we were firmly in Spain with a cello arrangement of de Falla’s ‘Six popular songs’. Alban Gerhardt convinced both as the soprano soloist, high in the cello’s register, but also in the Spanish atmosphere he produced. Steven Osborne’s accompanying was impeccable throughout but he now gave a magical solo performance of Debussy’s Estampes – both in the percussive gamelan effects which give an Eastern flavour to ‘Pagodas’ and in the quieter impressionistic playing – one was completely unconscious of the individual notes, only hearing the quality of the sound!

Alban Gerhardt rounded off the concert with three virtuoso arrangements of Ravel. His playing had been on fire all evening but now he held the hall spellbound with his supercharged mastery of the cello – dazzling fingerwork, bowing with style and expressiveness and a superb variety of sounds – a tour de force which unleashed tremendous applause from a grateful audience. A truly memorable occasion!

by Chris Skidmore