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Cd Feature/ Richard Harwood: "Debut - Beethoven, Chopin et al."

img  Tobias

Vienna is not the most obvious point of reference for an album which features Glazunov, Rubinstein, Offenbach and Chopin among others. Then again, this is not just a collection of great Cello pieces, but the first outing of a musician who has already been bestowed with luscious laudatios and heavy pressure by the press, enticing the “Strad” to refer to Richard Harwood as “the greatest young cello talent since Jaqueline Du Pre” (they did put a “probably” at the beginning of that sentence, though). And it was Vienna, where he felt most at home in musical terms.

One might even say that the city formed the creative ground upon which this entire record grew and prospered. For four years, he was able to tread in the footsteps of the composers he loved most, listen to the works some of his heroes had written in the very same place where they had been premiered and live the life of a student at the University of Music, a tremendously inspiring place for a Classical instrumentalist in the truest sense of the word. And just like Vienna, Harwood fostered a love for traditions, which harmonically blend with the new, the progressive and even the mutinous occasionally – even though his interest in contemporary repertoire has not rubbed off on this CD. Most importantly, however, he got to know pianist Christoph Berner here, a friend and an artistic companion both on stage and in the studio. Which is why the record at hand is really a duo performance, one in which two aspiring musicians take on some of their own favourites, both with the intent of pressing their stamp on recognised masterpieces, as well as with a sense of mission (when they program David Popper’s “Elfentanz”, a highly virtuous formula one ride at the brink of madness). The show is framed by two major works: Beethoven’s third and Chopin’s first and only Cello sonata. Both need entirely different approaches and therefore offer a great chance for the artists to display their expressiveness. What immediately attracts the attention is the fact that Harwood is never overly motivated and resists the temptation of playing too sweet or too lyrical. His tone is filled with clarity and certainty, which gives him a strong command over the composition and allows him to hit the right spots even more precisely than by allowing his emotions to flow over. While the Beethoven carries a feeling of consolation, while swaying between acceptance and uproar, the Chopin sonata is pished forward by an ephemeral sentimentality and a discreet tragedy.Here, Berner’s performance is almost transcendental and unreal and adds a high-contrast counterweight to Harwood’s very earthly strokes.

The shorter tracks are correctly described as “poignantly beauitful works that just can’t fail to pull at the heartstrings” by Richard in the distinctly personal linernotes, with especially Offenbach’s “Les Larmes de Jacqueline” making one wonder, why it hasn’t turned into a classic encore yet. And it is this personal aspect which you have to look at to understand the Vienna allusions: It is the nobility, mood and elegance of the city, which this album manages to get accross, instead of merely bundling together a couple of artists who happened to have lived in the same place hundreds of years ago.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Richard Harwood
Homepage: Christoph Berner
Homepage: EMI Classics

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