Recital for Solo Cello
St Brigid’s Church,
13 January 2015
Bach, Suite no. 1
Britten, Suite no. 1
A standing ovation!
Rare enough in a city concert hall but rarer still in a 100 seat country church.
On several levels Tim had nowhere to hide.
He had, at most, a maximum of two strings to play at any one time. To build a harmonic such as a chord he had to rely on the residual memory of the preceding one or two notes. So harmonic depended on total accuracy, especially in the Bach Suite.
No violins, no viola were going to rescue him if he fell over; no multiple piano strings to hide amongst.
His musical isolation was most obvious in the Bach Suite. There are no surviving dynamic markings for the suites for solo cello; no louds or softs, no fasts or slows, no pauses, no nothing. Any markings in modern scores are figments of some earlier performer’s mind. A musician of the calibre of Tim would be insane to even look at them.
All of this just made the performance interesting. It was made exciting by the cellist’s naked musicianship. The first cello suite is nice to listen to played by any half competent musician such as the teenager I heard busking in Paris. But to lose yourself in Bach’s head, to sit beside him late at night in the light of a couple of candles when all the kids are finally in bed, to understand what was coming out of his psyche as his musical soul took off, needs more than technical competence; that’s assumed. Tim needed the ability to lose himself in Bach’s mind and his musicianship so that what he found could be heard coming from the string or strings he had under his bow. And the sound from under Tim’s bow was superb.
Tim Nankervis, St Bridget's Maldon
Image © Denise Jackel
But there was more.
Britten’s suites are modelled the baroque dances that form the structure of Bach’s cello suites. But ‘there is no more forlorn opening to a work by Britten than the beginning of this (Number One) suite’. A ‘doleful Canto’ opens and intersperses the work where ‘Britten conjures a whole peasant band’. Tim’s ability was laid bare in his attack on the complexity of the suite: ‘a battlefield call … drums … dull tabors and droning brass … a gauche stumping tune … a lyrical piece brought to an end with a ghostly bugle call’*.
It is an exhausting work and the performance was electric.
(Not the Elizabethan) John Tavener’s Thrinos was never going to be an encore to ease us out into the heavy Summer rain. Tavener said the title 'has both liturgical and folk significance in Greece - the Thrinos of the Mother of God sung at the Epitaphios on Good Friday and the Thrinos of mourning which is chanted over the dead body on the house of a close friend’. If for no other piece that day it was this lament that got the audience on its feet.
A few days before the recital Tim told me has was having butterflies just thinking about (the recital) and he knew that a beer afterwards would be fabulous.
You earned it Tim!
Timothy Nankervis is member of the Seraphim Trio, The Sonus Piano Quartet and Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and an ANAM graduate.
*Kidea, P, 2013, Benjamin Britten A Life in the Twentieth Century, Allen Lane, London