Kings Place's "Cello Unwrapped" series is a major, year-long celebration of the instrument. It consists of a no fewer than 51 events spread throughout the year, with everything from films to sessions on buying – and even making – instruments. And naturally, the centrepiece is a substantial number of concerts with contrasting repertoire for the instrument through the centuries, in all kinds of combinations, and these concerts mostly in the clear acoustic and the clean oak lines of Hall One.

Adrian Brendel © Jack Liebeck
Adrian Brendel
© Jack Liebeck
The works of Beethoven form a pivotal part of the concert series. There will be concerts including the cello sonatas to come later in the year, played by cellists such as Gautier Capucon, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Xavier Phillips. This concert, however – already the seventh event in the series – was a cunningly conceived programme of Beethoven which managed to skirt round and avoid the sonatas, but nevertheless gave a reminder of the astonishing flowering of Beethoven’s genius.

The featured cellist was Adrian Brendel, who recorded the Beethoven cello works on his Stradivarius instrument with his eminent father (who was looking on approvingly from the audience) on a CD set issued in 2004. Brendel and Imogen Cooper opened the programme with the Seven Variations on Mozart’s “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” from The Magic Flute. These variations brought to the fore perhaps the most appealing feature of the evening which is Cooper's capacity to draw in attention from the moment she starts playing. The arrival of a new mood at the beginning of the the fourth variation in E flat minor, and the rapt poetic Adagio 6th variation were both ushered in with the kind of eloquent and persuasive playing that talks directly to the heart.

The bulk of the programme was given over to Beethoven’s first piano trio, Op.1 no. 1 from 1793, and his last, the “Archduke” from 1811. The latter work is an inexhaustible treasure-trove of ideas, and Beethoven constantly surprises the listener by re-introducing the compositional material in unexpected and unfamiliar guises, playing with the listener’s sense of anticipation. There was one part of the performance of the Archduke by the trio of Imogen Cooper, Adrian Brendel and Henning Kraggerud which really found that sense of mystery and enchantment, the final Poco più adagio section of the D major slow movement, which leads directly into the final Allegro moderato. The edge of the seat anticipation and the transition were beautifully paced. Earlier in the piece, however, there had been a sense of opportunities missed. Swafford in his Beethoven biography refers to an oft-repeated "habit of suddenly withdrawing inward", where, rather than allowing intensity to build, it is as if it is suddenly removed from the table like a conjuring trick. The ending of the movement, by contrast, is the only occasion it is not done. This was just one of the elements in the long symphonic first movement that seemed to be glossed over. And the Op.1 no. 1 Trio was taken at such a fast speed, it rendered the final Presto more or less superfluous. Maybe these are minor quibbles, what stays in the mind is the poetry of some of the slower sections.

With over forty more events still to come in Cello Unwrapped, there are bound to be some real gems.

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