A long time ago now, the Hon Sir Roy Jack died, leaving a largeish sum to provide for annual awards to those who won his eponymous prize for string playing, and a smallish bequest to your correspondent, which she happily spent on a boxed LP set of Mozart concertos and a Rousseau print of two lovers dancing in a wood, which still hangs above her bed. So it seemed like a true act of grace to be invited to attend the concert put together to farewell Dominic Lee, cellist and winner of the 2014 Roy Jack Prize, before he left for further study in New York and a debut in the Carnegie Hall.
It has to be said, that although the concert was intended to be, and ultimately was, full of grace, it had some bumpy bits, more to do with content than with the quality of the individual players: the programme was a disparate mix, with not a lot of artistic connection to be made between the items. But as the evening developed, and the evident affection and trust between the young performers glowed as do the dancers in Rousseau’s wood, things got better and better. This was an ‘at-home’; the crowded Tauranga Art Gallery (“Maybe we should have picked a bigger venue,” mused Dominic) worked for them with a sympathy that will not be available in the Carnegie Hall.
Things started promisingly for the cello: a couple of sonata movements, the first by Beethoven, its subtle pizzicato somewhat diminished by too much piano (the microphone had been left on top of the instrument); remedied before the second, a ravishing treatment of the first movement of Brahms’ sonata in E minor (the singer’s key), a poem to homesickness with a growling, yearning tune nicely sustained by fingers that stayed put well after the bow had left the strings.
We were less enthused by a less-than-danceable Czardas from Dominic’s violinist sister Anna, and the inevitable rendition of Saint-Saens The Swan, perversely so difficult to divorce in one’s mind from the danced version. Next, however, came the third movement of a cello suite by Cassado, which was, at last, just Dominic and the instrument itself, with all its bite and gentility, worked on until hairs were hanging off the bow.
After an admittedly virtuosic rendering by Choong Park of a movement from a Rachmaninov piano sonata that was both noisy and dull, the cello came back with Dominic’s favourite composer, Shostakovich’s , sonata in D minor – the second movement only, but a most splendid end to the first half.
Shostakovich was, for your correspondent, the standout point of the second part of the concert. It started with some fairly ordinary Faure and a well-meant jazz singing set, but then the mad angry march and gipsy rhythms – and a waltz – in the fourth movement of the Concerto in E flat major showed our cellist could confidently and deliberately lift the game. Following this, Anna’s solo Zigeunerweisen by Sarasate and, in duet with Dominic, the Passacaglia by Handel (arr Halvorsen) seemed, by this stage of the evening, to be more realised and artistically fulfilled. This was musical leadership of a high order. It’s hard to avoid patronising the players by references to their youthfulness, and it’s temptingly easy to imagine a heroic trajectory through the cohorts of other aspiring cellists for our local prodigy; but, on the night, it was a great thing to see a musician in the very early stages of a public career pull a disparate programme together and leave the audience eager to hear more of his way of performing. Not by accident, his encore was Bach, overlaid with the hymn tune, Amazing Grace.
The Te Puna Correspondent. Your TPC is a rurally-based Tauranga contributor of acerbic wit, wide cultural interests and knowledge, who has written on a wide range of creative arts topics. You will also enjoy The ARTbopSHOW- creative conversations; interview with cellist Dominic Lee. And, if you have any spare time or you’re inside on a Bay of Plenty winter’s day, the TPC archive of contributions is something an ARTbop reader could enjoy (again).