12 February 2008 - Jérôme Pernoo - cello (France) & Jérôme Ducros - piano (France)


This French duo have played in Durban a few times over the years and have won many admirers, and there was a sizeable audience for this excellent recital given for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The two Jeromes combine great technical prowess with a truly artistic insight into the music they are playing. The gave a programme ranging from Bach to a contemporary composer named Guillaume Connesson, and all four compositions were presented with conviction and authority.

I suppose I am old-fashioned, but I thought they were at their best in Bach's Cello Sonata in D major, one of Bach's three works in this genre. Both players revelled in this joyous music, which after three hundred years still sounds astonishingly modern in melody, harmony and rhythm. Small wonder that Bach is plundered from time to time by pop musicians looking for something new and catchy.

Prokofiev's Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 119, is a late work, written four years before his death in 1953. With its rich sonorities, sharp wit and quite lyrical interludes it is rather more accessible than much of Prokofiev's music, and the performance was absolutely outstanding. "I have never enjoyed Prokofiev so much", somebody said to me at the interval.

Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata is one of the masterworks of the chamber repertory. The arpeggione was a six-stringed instrument invented a couple of hundred years ago by one of Schubert's friends, and the ever-obliging composer wrote this sonata for it. The instrument did not last but the sonata has, which is not surprising, considering that it is Schubert at his most engaging and eloquent. The outer movements are irresistibly appealing, and the brief Adagio is one of the most beautiful things Schubert ever wrote.

The score is taxing, especially for the cellist, and the players handled the difficulties with aplomb and good judgment. Finally, we had a world premiere of a two-movement work, Les Chants de l'Agartha, songs of the Agartha, by the French composer Guillaume Connesson, who was born in 1970. In an introduction Jerome Pernoo explained that the Agartha is a mythical underground kingdom beneath the desert of Mongolia. The first movement of this sonata depicts that kingdom and the second is the dance of the king of that territory, who rules everything.

The music, written specifically for the two Jeromes, turned out to be aggressively modern, the first movement atmospheric and often cast in the lower register of the cello and the piano, the second movement a kind of wild danse macabre. Difficult to fathom at first hearing, but there was no denying the brilliance of the performance. In response to prolonged and enthusiastic applause the players repeated the second movement as an encore. The evening's prelude performer, funded by the National Lottery, was a nineteen-year-old saxophonist, Maxine Matthews. Accompanied at the piano by Anne Muir, she played Darius Milhaud's well-known Scaramouche suite, written originally for two pianos and adapted by the composer himself for the saxophone.

Michael Green (Courtesy of ArtSmart)