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Philip Higham, cello & Alasdair Beatson, piano – 2 October 2023

Perth Chamber Music began their 75th season of bringing the greatest musicians and music to Perth with an inspired concert in historic St John’s Kirk.  Their guests were the critically-acclaimed, Philip Higham, leader of the SCO cellos, and now internationally-known Perth-born pianist Alasdair Beatson.

2023 Opening Concert Philip Higham & Alasdair Beatson
Alasdair Beatson and Philip Higham

Their Bach Sonata in G BWV1027 began with nobility and serenity, turning in the Allegro to sunlight and joy. Philip Higham’s cello was hypnotically transfixing in the Andante and both happily bobbed and weaved in the bourrée-based final Allegro.

Their questioning lengthy introduction to Beethoven’s first Cello Sonata moved eloquently to an Allegro where both showed their appreciation of Beethoven’s twists. The final quick rondo started sprightly becoming ever more engaging as the music carried the two away. Their quiet playing before Beethoven’s humorously abrupt end is to be treasured.

Satisfying though the first half had been the second reached even greater musical heights., with a devastating MacMillan Sonata No.2 and a brilliantly witty Poulenc Sonata. As Alasdair said, the MacMillan spoke of great, dark things and the Poulenc was fun and had as sugary a beautiful tune as you could wish.

In MacMillan’s Sonata, after its ferocious start from the piano the cello entered quiet, tremulous and wailing. It was full of intriguing sonorities, which the St John’s acoustic conveyed perfectly. Philip Higham’s extended harmonics were eerie and had a frightened chromatic slither. Both artists, so fully attuned to the piece with its catastrophic ending, gave a deeply impressive performance.

Bright and nonchalant fun from Poulenc ended the recital. It was full of touching melodies  and almost cabaret animation. Its ending of affectionate recall and witty insouciance almost called for the calming encore of the Adagio from Bach’s third Viola da gamba Sonata.

                                                                                                             Ian Stuart-Hunter