Tim Gill (cellist) at Kings Place review *****


London Sinfonietta’s Tim Gill: Avant Cello

Kings Place, 6th May 2017

Tim Gill – cello
Fali Pavri – piano
Sound Intermedia

  • Anton Webern – 3 kleine Stücke, Op. 11,
  • Olivier Messiaen – ‘Louange à l’Éternite du Jesus Christ’ (‘Praise to the eternity of Jesus’) from Quartet for the End of Time,
  • Hans Werner Henze – Serenade for solo cello,
  • Arvo Pärt – Fratres,
  • Iannis Xenakis – Kottos for solo cello,
  • Jonathan Harvey – Ricercare una melodia for solo cello and electronics,
  • Thomas Ades – ‘L’eaux’ from Lieux retrouvés,
  • Anna Clyne – Paint Box for cello and tape,
  • Harrison Birtwistle – Wie Eine Fuga from Bogenstrich

I have a theory. If the C18 was characterised by the rise of the violin (beauty and enlightenment) in Western art music and the C19 the piano (power, expression and romanticism), then the C20 saw the cello come to the fore. If you want to pump up the emotion, eloquence and lyricism in music then the cello is the chap for you. It does profound in a way no other instrument can match and the C20 has much that composers have wished to be profound about. And in the purely musical sense you have 4 strings capable of a such wide variety of sound that it is really easy for the uninformed punter like me to grasp.

So there are some very good, some not so good and some very famous pieces written for cello from the last century. Think the large scale concertos of Elgar, Honegger, Walton, Prokofiev, Britten, Shostakovich, Ligeti, Lutoslawski and Penderecki for starters. There are also plenty of smaller scale works and this is largely the repertoire that the Cello Unwrapped series is exploring at Kings Place this year. Whilst there is a place rightly reserved in the series  for the mighty cello led works of JS Bach and Vivaldi and the earlier Classical composers there are also plenty of C20 cello works to feast upon.

And of those programmes this for me looked the best of the bunch (though I am signed up for a handful later in the year). I can’t pretend I went into this knowing all of these pieces but there were enough hooks and enough interesting sounding composers to get me all of a flutter.

I wasn’t disappointed. The Webern pieces are over in a instant but they pack in a host of new sounds which must have had contemporary listeners in full on WTF mode. I had heard the Messiaen before but on its own it is truly beautiful. Just a simple, unfolding, sonorous (cello trademark) cantilena like Part and Tavener deliver, and with a hint of Britten. Easy peasy to like. Then the first of the solo cello pieces, the Henze serenade. Henze is on my list to do more work on and blimey this was persuasive. Nine little movements each with a clear musical structure and immensely playful but never pastiche. I have heard Part’s Fratres millions of times, in various combinations, but this might have been the best ever. The arpeggiated opening and percussive interludes were played by Tim Gill with real aggression, and in the chorales he and Fali Pavri really attacked the music in a way I never thought possible. The Xenakis piece for solo cello was another one of the works by this composer that sound like they have been pulled out from deep underground with all sorts of exhilarating sounds and rhythms which get us boys all worked up. The Harvey piece involved a live tape delay which meant that Gill’s single cello line turned into a five part canon. The Ades piece was a sweeter affair intended to depict the action of water – I enjoyed this but it wasn’t as immediately exciting as some of the other compositions. As for Paint Box by Anna Clynne, well the mix of recorded voice, breathing  and other sound loops with a sonorous cello line and Mr Gill playing a musical box (I kid you not) was way better than it had any right to be. I love this thing where a piece which frankly I am never likely to hear again sucks you right in and then lodges in your head for days afterwards. We ended with the Birtwhistle piece. What can I say, it is just too much of a stretch for me now but one day, perhaps, I hope to become sufficiently sophisticated so that his work will make sense to me – alas this evening was not it (I am not taking the p*ss here – I really do mean this).

So I take my hat off to Mr Gill. He is principal cellist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the London Sinfonietta so clearly knows his onions. I cannot though imagine a better advocate for this music and with Fali Pavri he had a more than sympathetic partner. Just brilliant. This is the way to listen to contemporary art music.


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