It’s Bach to Beethoven

Seven Days, March 23, Natalie Clein
Seven Days, March 23, Natalie Clein

ONE of the stand-out events in this year’s A Boy Was Born festival in the city, a concert of Britten and Beethoven from one of the world’s leading cellists Natalie Clein, is at Firth Hall next Tuesday.

Her third visit to Sheffield in as many years, she played Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata (and Elgar’s concerto) when becoming the first, and still only Brit to win the Eurovision Young Musician Competition shortly after being crowned BBC Young Musician of Year in 1994.

And it was the Russian composer who introduced Britten to Mstislav Rostropovich, a momentous encounter in 1960 that resulted in a cello sonata, followed by a symphony for cello and orchestra and three solo cello suites for the legendary Russian cellist over the next decade.

Clein was scheduled to play ‘cello symphony’ on the second of her two visits to the city over which she had developed a winning rapport with the City of Sheffield Youth Orchestra.

For reasons unknown, she didn’t, but is performing the composer’s Cello Sonata (premiered 1961) next Tuesday.

The piece, in five fairly short movements (well, four are!), lasts around 20 minutes, as does the composer’s nine-movement Cello Suite No 1, which Clein is also playing.

Inspired in 1964 by Rostropovich’s playing of Bach’s cello suites, like the Cello Sonata it can be said to be essentially playful in feel, although nothing is vaguely teasing about their technical demands.

Both are passionate works and Clein, who book-ends the Britten works with the last two cello sonatas by Beethoven, Op 72, is nothing if not a passionate performer.

Her pianist is the little known but extremely highly regarded Alasdair Beatson.

Britten first met and heard Rostropovich playing when the Russian gave the UK premiere of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto.

And, next Friday (May 10), another outstanding cellist, Alban Gerhardt, performs the composer’s Second Cello Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic in the Sheffield International Concert Season at the City Hall.

Born in 1969, Gerhardt, who released a universally praised recording last year of the five works Britten wrote for Rostropovich – as Shostakovich did his two concertos – is the son of a Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra violinist.

The Second Concerto in 1966 was in stark contrast to the slightly more popular First, written seven years earlier: more expansive in utterance with an irregular adagio-allegretto-allegretto movement structure.

Other works being performed at the concert are Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Dvorák’s less-regularly heard set of Slavonic Dances, Op 72, and the orchestra’s chief conductor Juanjo Mena is on the podium.