It was a very warm St Patrick’s night that welcomed New Zealand duo Edward King (cello) and Katherine Austin (piano) to the Camberwell Uniting Church as part of the Camberwell Music Society’s 2018 subscription Series Concerts. CMS is one of many community organizations that provide outstanding concert-going fare for remarkably cheap ticket prices and all in the fine acoustic and salon-like intimacy of the Camberwell Uniting Church.
While King is based in Berlin (in 2017 he was Associate Principal Cello of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra), and Austin hails from Auckland, they have worked as a duo for more than a decade and the fruits of this long-standing partnership were evident throughout Saturday night’s program. Presenting a program of cello masterworks, the duo clearly revel in the opportunity to work together interweaving their respective musical melodic strands, bouncing musical detail off each other, and responding to each other’s nuanced harmonic colouring, all the while enjoying the process in what was a mix of gemütlich preparedness complemented by an infectious, joyful spontaneity.
The program opened with Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, a late work from the troubled composer’s oeuvre and here King highlighted the work’s introspection with a warmth of tone and easily flowing vibrato that began so beguilingly with the work’s opening phrase, lasting right through until the impassioned conclusion. Austin responded in kind, discreet yet supportive with carefully balanced textures that allowed her partner’s ardent lyricism to unfold with seemingly effortless ease.
Then came Beethoven’s ground-breaking Sonata in F major Op. 5, written during a successful concert tour to Berlin and Prague in what was one of the composer’s few moments of truly undiluted happiness before the onset of deafness. Here Austin was allowed more scope to shine as her felicitous technique formed the basis of what is really a sonata for piano and cello rather than vice versa. Sparing use of the pedal allowed for textural clarity throughout, enabling dynamic and articulatory detail to emerge with precision and interpretative conviction as musical ideas were tossed to and fro in an elegant dialogue between the two protagonists, revealing a unified musical intent.
Cesar Franck’s tour de force Sonata for violin and piano, composed as a wedding gift for Belgian virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe, followed. Both King and Austin made a persuasive case for it to be heard on the cello, with King coaxing us into a state of languid reverie during the arpeggio-laden expanse of the opening movement. His sumptuous tone was equally apposite in the third movement recitativo. Austin negotiated the many technical challenges of the tempestuous second movement with aplomb, while always placing line and textural clarity at the musical forefront. The duo opened the canonic finale with understated yet persuasive lyricism building inexorably to the sonata’s exuberant final pages.
The recital concluded with what may well have been the Australian premiere of New Zealand composer Gareth Farr’s Shadow of the Hawk, originally composed for Austin and renowned American cellist James Tennant. Jazz-infused and featuring high register double stops, as well as ethereal harmonics and driving pizzicato effects, much of it is a unison moto perpetuo. King, playing from memory (as he did for the earlier Franck and Schumann works) and with an unerring sense of pitch gave an arresting account of this dynamic work that merits wider exposure this side of the ditch.
King is a dynamic young performer who exudes musicality. As co-conspirator, Austin matched him in musical temperament throughout, responding sympathetically to his breathing and shaping of each well-considered phrase. This duo clearly enjoys working together and the capacity audience responded enthusiastically to their richly varied program and generous musicianship.
Glenn Riddle reviewed Edward King’s and Katherine Austin’s performance at Camberwell Uniting Church, March 17, 2018.