REVIEW: DUO Arnicans in Worthing’s International Interview Concert series at St Paul’s

Arta answers a question from Tim Chick (left) with Florian. Pic by Stephen Goodger.

Co-creator Richard Amey looks back at the event.

Florian Arnicans (cello), Arta Arnicane (piano). Music - ‘Programme Canción’: “The Cello Sings” – JS Bach, Arioso; Schubert, Ständchen; Mendelssohn, Lied ohne Worte Op.109 (Song without Words); Dvorak, Melodie; Pablo Casals, Song of the Birds; Ravel, Pièce en forme de Habanera; Josef Suk, Serenade. After the interval: Brahms, Sonata for Cello and Piano No 2 in F Opus 99.

We know the cello can sound like a singing voice. We have heard it evoke the imaginary sound of a swan. We came to hear that kind of thing. We did not think the cello could speak or chatter like birds until we heard Pablo Casals’ piece The Song of The Birds, played on this occasion unaccompanied.

Birds were singing in the Spanish countryside and scented gardens, exchanging conversations, issuing warnings, declaring territory, making amorous advances. When the piece ascended towards its end, one bird trilled away into the high distance, and silence; then slowly, with secretive footsteps, in stole the sultry rhythm of a Spanish Habanera.

It was a moment of pure live concert magic. The culmination in that top-string trill was fingered by cellist Florian Arnicans beyond the treetops, less than an inch from the bridge. For a fraction, time was suspended, until Arta Arnicane brought in Ravel’s first piano notes, creeping around the flowering shrubs and tip-toeing into shrinking light of sunset.

The rare and special sensation felt within the Interview Concert audience was of being in the right place at the right time. To be feeling such magical musical moments in their ears, and sensing the same revelation and transportation happening all around them, among one another, in pin-drop silence, with barely an empty seat.

DUO Arnicans were returning to Worthing with “The Cello Sings”, their new sequence of lyrical cello solos. German cellist Florian Arnicans played each from memory, uninterrupted by applause, as requested by Latvian pianist Arta Arnicane. Arta and he explored or transmitted each nuance in tandem and drew the surrounding audience into the process. And they held a hundred people spellbound.

Heart-stirring moments were to come later in the masterly Brahms Sonata, in a performance that did not disappoint. Made palpable was the virile power and tender, sensual passion Brahms summoned and unleashed, even as his subsiding autumn years were moving in contra-flow to the final summation of his compositional powers.

But for most listeners, the revelatory Casals experience, as the pinnacle moment of ‘Programme Canción’ – DUO Arnicans’ title* for their own creation – is the memory they will recall first from this concert. And it is unlikely to be repeated by anyone other than these two artistes any time yet because, according to Florian himself, no printed music exists for ‘Song of The Birds’. It isn’t published.

Florian explained after the concert that he had sat down and worked out on his own how it is played, by listening to a recording by the legendary Casals himself. Therefore this was a uniquely exclusive moment, for it to be taking place in a type of concert not replicated elsewhere.

The Interview Concerts discard the dry, regimented, minimal and regimented convention of recitals. They are creating instead an interactive, intimate, innovative and inclusive concert with an extra social dimension for their audiences who are seated much nearer and more connectively to the action.

The magic of this evening lay not only in the music being performed by two such accomplished young international artistes. The personalities of this married couple charmed and riveted their interview listeners. Both of them quietly-spoken, their words of disarming wisdom and subtle humour held all ears completely captive. And also their little son, shortly to turn three, although absent, became of keen interest about this young, richly musical family.

With interviewing including a section of questions submitted by audience members, highlights among their many answers included Arta wanting to meet pianist and composer Clara Schumann to ask how on earth she managed a concert career while bringing up so many children; and Florian wanting to catch up with Mozart and demand he write at last a concerto for the cello – and saying, meantime, that his favourite is the one by Dvorak.

They were both presented with gifts, they and the applauding audience declared mutual love, and those were conquered who came to hear the cello, beautiful and in the flesh.

Richard Amey

* Canción ("song") is a popular genre of Latin American music, particularly in Cuba, where many of the compositions originate. Its roots lie in Spanish popular song forms, including tiranas, polos and boleros; also in Italian light operetta, French romanza, and the slow waltz.

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