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FringeReview UK 2019

Frank Schaefer and Ethna Tinney Cello and Piano Recital

Frank Schaefer and Ethna Tinney

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: Chapel Royal, North Road, Brighton


Low Down

Frank Schaefer and Ethna Tinney performed cello and piano slow movements of two sonatas – Kodaly’s Op 4 (subsequently abandoning this movement) and Saint Saens’ No. 2 in F Op 123. Then they performed entire Beethoven’s Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op 69.


This is easily one of the most satisfying cello and piano recitals we’ve heard in Brighton recently. Frank Schaefer and Ethna Tinney made a deep impression last time they played here, and they return with an unusual couple of curtain-raisers to a staple part of the repertoire.


Schaefer’s tone is deeply expressive and contained, a classic romantic perhaps: a bit like Saint-Saens who features here. Tinney’s able to fine down her responses to filigree, also in the Saint-Saens yet play out big-boned in the Beethoven that concluded this recital.


First a rejected slow Adagio movement of Kodaly’s Cello Sonata Op 4. He was unsatisfied with the whole work, but by the time he’d rewritten it the one good movement seemed alien to him so it’s become orphaned. It’s a work with Kodaly’s fingerprints on it already: plangent folksong-inflected idyll with a romanticism that never left him. Schaefer moulds the part to a gently rising climax, though this is an adagio that keeps pulsating quietly beyond that, not so much an elegy, though elegiac, as the kind of evening landscape other early works invoke. Tinney’s touch quietly reinforces the seamless duo-playing: it sounds like something else.


The Saint-Saens’ slow movement is only temporarily shorn of its context – a work we hear rarely now, his Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major Op 123, written around 1910 – so though 47 years apart, these composers’ works are contemporary. Though they’d love to play this work entire, they’ve decided to play just their favourite movement for now and return with the work later.


It’s a plangent, but somehow seraphic slow movement, with the spaciousness you sometimes hear in Fauré.


The Beethoven Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major Op 69 is of course a work you hear so often it becomes too familiar. In magisterial hands of course it always revives – partly as it’s a headlong excited and exciting work with no slow movements and a velocity that’s breathless from start to finish, but still taking in an enormous amount. There’s several rapt climaxes and an extraordinary lyric stillness about six minutes till the end, two minutes later, in where the duetting winds and unravels as if romantically entwined. Technically it’s because the piano though counterpointing the cello’s line often, has its own line too and takes the lead. Both instruments especially towards the end alternate with mini-cadenzas of their own.


Schaefer exudes a purring command and Tinney punctuates with Beethoven’s decisive pianistic partnership. This is the point where the instruments had become equals, and where neither predominated: the piano before, into Haydn’s and Mozart’s time where it shifted. and after where the piano often accompanied.


The Allegro ma nan tanto eases us into that speed, with a regal quiet authority that doesn’t yet hint at what follows. The purr before the roar perhaps. It’s a loping run with boundless energy, powerfully argued from the piano too. The projection from both soloists is exemplary.


The Scherzo in A minor is a glintingly playful affair, but tenebrous, perhaps a cheerful poltergeist (we’re an opus off from the Ghost trio!). In fact it’s quite folk-like with the final note of the phrase a decisive downbow, a lendler perhaps gone wrong.


The gathering force of the finale from the deceptive Adagio cantabile, with its slow filigree pianistic intro with the cello ruminant above it, moves through to the Allegro vivace. Sounding a bit like the finale of the Triple Concerto Op 56 it’s more like a scherzo again with sudden abrupt stops and flurries. I do enjoy the way the duo lucidly point up the wit and abandon of this movement – which brings the sonata and this recital to an exultant close. A mesmerizingly first-class recital.