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Cello Lessons

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The Times
January 17th 2005

Hilary Finch at Wigmore Hall

"FIRM intellectual control, smooth tone, easy technique, and a classical turn of phrase. That’s how the Grove Dictionary of Music describes the great French cellist Pierre Fournier. But it could equally well be a thumbnail sketch of 25-year-old Richard Harwood, the winner of the 2004 Pierre Fournier Award, who was “presented” at the Wigmore Hall on Thursday.

The notion of “presentation” is significant. This award carries with it an appearance at the Manchester International Cello Festival and a debut recital at the Wigmore Hall. But Harwood is well nigh a veteran of the place, having made his debut there as early as 1998 - his concerto debut, after all, happened at the age of 10.

Anyone expecting a superstar in the making would have been disappointed. What we heard in this thoughtfully programmed recital with the Viennese pianist Christoph Berner was an intensely and quietly musical voice, whose high intelligence and sensitive perception may still make Harwood one of the most seductive English cellists of our time.

The first - and best - of the evening was Beethoven’s Sonata No 1 in F. This was a gentle, closely bonded partnership between cello and piano, with Harwood as subtle and fascinating in the role of accompanist as he was when he took the lead. It was a deceptively self-effacing start: no point-making or point- scoring, simply a deeply assimilated understanding of the music’s innermost character.

Harwood honoured Fournier’s memory in two pieces particularly associated with him. Chopin’s G minor Sonata was frequently performed by Fournier, and, true to the spirit of his great predecessor, Harwood played with understated elegance, sighing where others might have wrenched the heartstrings, and making a spectral, delicately pointed dance of the polacca-like scherzo. Here, and in the Tarantella finale, Harwood could, indeed, have dared a little more.

Martinu’s first Cello Sonata, of 1939, was written for and premiered by Fournier. Harwood and Berner’s nimble, ambivalent way with the opening caught its unsettled nature. And Harwood was as reticent in the contained pain of the slow movement as he was unfazed by the intense virtuosity of the finale.

Harwood’s cello, a beautifully soft-grained 1682 Francesco Rugeri from Cremona, seemed delighted by its opportunity to tease out the strange and sombre fantasy of Domenico Gabrielli’s Ricercar No 7 for Solo Cello, in what was an entirely entrancing performance." | header

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