Two performers passionate about passing on the wonder of music to young people – cellist Johannes Moser and pianist Kathryn Stott – gave a stellar recital in the intimate surrounds of the Utzon Room to quickly warm an audience that had just come in from a sunny but icy Sydney Sunday afternoon.

Johannes Moser

The recital started brightly with Beethoven’s tribute to Mozart, the Seven variations on Bei Mannern, welche Liebe Fuhlen, from The Magic Flute. British pianist Stott is no stranger to the cello repertoire, having collaborated for three decades with her friend Yo Yo Ma. The variations, especially the skipping fifth, saw both Moser and Stott obviously enjoying themselves. The cello sang out after an extended piano solo in the lovely Andante sixth variation before the bubbling finale showed both piano and cello as truly equal partners.

The Shostakovich Cello Sonata which followed – “my favourite of all sonatas” said Moser – dates from 1934 when the composer still had a sense of optimism, although there is a darkness as well that foreshadows his fall from grace two years later with Pravda’s notorious condemnation of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Moser’s intensity in the powerful and passionate passages of the opening movement was palpable, and Stott’s command of dynamic, tempo and articulation made this an emotional and fulfilling ride. The quieter, slightly ominous closing moments of the movement presented as a robotic march with precise attention given to space in this finely judged performance. Moser, a witty and informative guide, pointed out the contemporary interest in Russia’s industrial revolution, as evidenced in the second movement Allegro to which the 40-year-old German-Canadian cellist gave an explosive start. His bowing arm described a dramatic arc before hitting the strings for the hurdy-gurdy-like bass line in which you can hear the working of gigantic machinery. The Largo – its sense of despair shot through with beauty in the memorable melodic lines – was achingly moving while the sardonic finale, like a crazed dance with rapid fire bowing and runs from Moser and frenetic arpeggios from Stott, brought this bravura work to a barn-storming close.

The potency of the Shostakovich set the scene well for the closing work, Brahms’s Sonata for Cello and Piano No 1, Op. 38. The work’s dedicatee, Josef Gänsbacher, was an amateur cellist who paid the composer handsomely but insisted on giving the premiere performance. In the run-through he complained to Brahms that he was being drowned out in the powerful opening movement, to which the composer is said to have replied: “And that’s not a bad thing”. Apocryphal or not, this certainly wasn’t the case in Moser and Stott’s reading which left this listener marvelling at how many hours of practice and years of experience must be put in for something to sound this easy and natural. The lovely duet in the Allegretto quasi menuetto middle movement, which evokes a bygone era reminding one of two lovers dancing, was a highlight. After the foot-stomping force of the finale the audience had to have more and they were rewarded with an eloquent and elegant account of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. A superlative 80 minutes.

Next up in the series is the LA Philharmonic Wind Quintet with a program of works by Barber, Shostakovich, Ravel, Françaix, Hindemith, Taffanel and Ligeti on Sunday, September 22, at 3pm.