Bartholomew LaFollette and Caroline Palmer
Playing to a full audience at the Methodist Church in Whitstable, Bartholomew LaFollette (cello) and Caroline Palmer (piano) galvanised listeners both (very) young and old. In the evening’s well-balanced programme, ranging from lyrical and meditative to energetic and furious, they offered pieces as diverse as Stravinsky’s Suite italienne (compiled and transcribed by the composer in collaboration with Gregor Piatigorsky from his own ballet Pulcinella), Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 (BMW 1009), Brahms’s Four Serious Songs, op. 121 and Grieg’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 36.
LaFollete in particular maintained his sensitive virtuosity throughout the demanding programme, which enabled him to create a sense of consistency that spanned even strongly contrasting pieces.
Almost exactly two hundred years separate Suite italienne (1925; based on a work that was at first – and falsely – attributed to the Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi) and Bach’s cello suite (one of six, composed presumably between 1717–23) which were presented in the first half of the concert. Both pieces may share musical features associated with the baroque period. But the neo-classical and neo-baroque style of Stravinsky’s suite with its baroque themes and classical textures, yet often innovatively voiced chords, progressive harmonies and rhythms differs significantly from the simple motoric rhythms, often monophonic texture and less chromatic harmonisation of Bach’s suite in C major. In his captivating performance, LaFollete sensitively and compellingly articulated the different characters of each piece. Palmer’s accompaniment in the Suite italienne was no less accomplished and she convincingly retained an infectiously enthusiastic and delicate touch even whilst playing percussive phrases, such as some of the brisk figures of the Tarantella.
The second half of the concert opened with Brahms’ Four Serious Songs (Vier ernste Gesänge), a cycle of four songs on biblical texts originally composed for bass and piano shortly before the composer’s death. Transcribed for cello, the solo line was taken by LaFollette. The cellist achieved a true cantabile sound which successfully emulated the phrasing, profundity and emotional clarity of the human voice. The despair, resignation and hope expressed in the four songs was complemented by Grieg’s cello sonata in A minor. Charged with a similar frustrated anger and pensiveness, the Norwegian composer’s virtuosic writing not only requires complete technical fluency and intimate understanding of musical emotion from the cellist, but also from the pianist. Palmer glided over the technical issues of the piece with such ease and professionalism and interpreted the musical lines with such perceptiveness that the primarily accompanying piano part of the previous two pieces with piano and cello instrumentation rose to the equal and fantastic grandeur of the cello part.
In what was an absorbing and enlightening concert, LaFollette and Palmer presented their musical offering with great aplomb and sheer brilliance. This was an evening of pure pleasure.
Timon Staehler, Music Scholar,
St Edmund's School Canterbury