It is inevitable that one of the most beloved of orchestral instruments, the cello, will entice a diverse crowd of enthusiastic concertgoers – and that even in the midst of a recession, there prevails an inherent desire to depart from the self now and then for a ritualistic celebration of great music. It is no surprise, then, that Truro's Hall for Cornwall warmly welcomed an evening with cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and pianist Pam Chowhan, performing works by Bach, Bridge, Britten, Fauré, Delius, Rachmaninov, Saint-Saëns, Piazzolla, and William Lloyd Webber.

Julian Lloyd Webber, © Simon Fowler
Julian Lloyd Webber,
© Simon Fowler

Though such an eclectic programme might appear to be jarring at first, the selection of repertoire was an apt decision on Lloyd Webber's part, demonstrating his virtuosity both technically and lyrically. A lush Adagio from Bach's Cantata no. 156 awakened the evening with its gentle, picturesque scenery, exuding an alluring warmth and elegance. At its heel followed Frank Bridge's lively Scherzetto, a juxtaposition which paid off by virtue of the Bach-like capriciousness of Bridge's piece. These works seemed best suited to Lloyd Webber's musicianship, who exhibited a pristine clarity, conscientiously noting the subtle eccentricities of the pieces without exaggeration. Equally prodigious, Chowhan flowed seamlessly across the scope of her instrument, providing a solid accompaniment and filling in the acoustics nicely.

The programme next ventured into the distinctly more contemporary Scherzo from Britten's Cello Sonata in C, which was reminiscent of Shostakovich and Bartók with its macabre intensity. This was answered by the much-anticipated Elégie by Fauré, whose melancholy seemed slightly understated by Lloyd Webber; as the piano accompaniment trod heavier, the deeper tones of the cello became lost in the chasm of sound and that great, cavernous resonance that all cello lovers devour was restricted by the acoustics of the venue. Where the architecture of the piece demanded a passionate rawness from the soloist, the slight restraint and the dominant piano inhibited the poetic performance, and one sensed a somewhat repressed musicality.

It was not until Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata in G minor that Lloyd Webber unleashed a brooding temperament, with his cello straining above the piano part's vigorous flashes across the keyboard. Chowhan was blazing in her performance, and for the first time during the course of the concert, Lloyd Webber's gestures were dramatically wrought as the two musicians unravelled a torrent of Romanticist sentiment that echoed the Russian's piano concertos.

In this sense, the execution of the sonata was a revelatory climax of the concert, as its brilliance overshadowed the previous works. Even throughout the performance of Delius' Cello Sonata earlier in the programme (celebrating his 150th anniversary), the distinction between movements and their ideas were not as dynamically rendered as they were here; Lloyd Webber embraced the full scale of metaphysical outpouring in the Rachmaninov, to great effect.

Yet while some critics may argue that the poignancy of the repertoire would have been intensified by a more exposed and exuberant playing style, it was the simplicity and humility with which Lloyd Webber expressed himself which made the concert experience more tangible to the listener. Humanizing the works of the composers by prefacing each piece with a personal anecdote, the cellist avoided the elitism of high art and this made each musical phrase more resonant. His discussion of father William Lloyd Webber's haunting Nocturne was a touching tribute, and his performance of it was peaceful and meditative. As a homage to the more popular cello canon, Saint-Saëns' The Swan and Piazzolla's seductive Oblivion met with a communal rapport from the audience, completing an interesting cycle of music which spanned a few hundred years.

If Lloyd Webber strove to achieve in his audience a greater reverence for the legacy of music, then his standing ovation proved such an aspiration successful. The richness of the programme's variety and the craftsmanship which the performers intuitively showcased (often functioning in a more egalitarian nature than that of soloist with accompaniment) ensured a respectful homage to some marvellous yet often neglected works.

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