08 March 2014

Zoë Knighton and Amir Farid: France to Argentina

Zoë Knighton and Amir Farid
45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
5 March 2014

Persons such as me with certain disabilities go pale at the two flights of stairs down to the concert space of 45 Downstairs: roughly as steep as the final ascent of Everest without the snow. Andy admits the vertiginously challenged through Tradesperson’s Entrance from a lane off a lane off Flinders Street. The 1900s style warehouse is of ancient brick, wobbly glass, steel beams and a beautifully solid old Baltic pine floor. The architectural features conspire to make the space acoustically it’s superb and it loves cello-ish sounds. It loves cellos. It love pianos.

45 is one of the five-year old Knighton-Farid Duo’s homes and they were obviously happy there on Wednesday night. So was the audience – glass of chardy in hand.

The recital was part of Mary-Lou Jelbart’s Festival of Words and Music. The music bit on Wednesday was K & F’s continuum of French to Argentinian – and back again – music. The program notes promised ‘sumptuous romanticism’. K & F delivered without a hint of soup. Their secret was judicious use of rubato: just enough to deliver romanticism but not so much as to cloy or interrupt the march of the music. That secret made the program opener, Debussy (Claire de Lune) new all over again and it continued – via Bragato and Solare – through the rare and beautiful Huré sonata and the equally rare Nadia Boulanger pieces back to Debussy. The Italian José Bragato was Piazolla’s cellist and Piazolla was Boulanger’s student so the transition from 20th century French music to Argentina was fixed. Clever programming and it worked superbly: the duo is very much at home in Argentina.

Huré's 1929 cello sonata could easily have been cello with piano accompaniment. Huré was an organist by trade – and a contemporary of Widor – so he knew about multiple levels of harmony. K & F knew about that idea too. We heard, by turns, bitter and sweet, longing and yearning. Huré wasn’t Jewsh but the ghosts of the Jewish rag traders in the warehouse came out to listen.

Boulanger’s three pieces had piquant transitions of harmony from major to minor and back again and back again. The Duo used these to produce superb emotional arcs that found Boulanger’s witty, acerbic and assertive ideas. There were hints of Argentina, too I think … possibly … and I imagined the pair each with a red rose, tango-like, in teeth, behind an ear, in the hair.

For me, though, they absolutely shone in Debussy’s late cello sonata with its hints of the 1910-ish The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and The Engulfed Cathedral. Not surprisingly, the piece is considered technically demanding but there were no hints of that with this pair. Their technical mastery and superb musicianship were clear.

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