Eliana Yang and Viv McLean

Concert date: 19 November 2023
Reviewed by: JRC

Eliana Yang and Viv McLean after their performance for NADSA Concerts with sponsor Michael Brown & daughter Alison and composer Tom Vignieri

USA cellist flies in for Westcountry inspiration

Dartmoor was the inspiration for Tom Vignieri, a former director of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, to compose the music ‘when the dream’. It was a commission for cellist Eliana Yang who crossed the pond to team up with pianist Viv McLean. They performed it in Newton Abbot last Sunday. Only premiered in 2022, it was part of an intriguingly eclectic mix: Eliana and Viv included something that would move everyone.

Beethoven and Brahms’ cello sonatas are certainly the meat of a broadly classical concert, Mendelssohn’s Song without Words bodes a lighter touch, whereas Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango has to be experienced to be believed: a world of its own. The programme held great promise.

Eliana announced a change of order, and Mendelssohn’s Song without Words Op 109 opened the concert. Their nuanced and sensitively balanced playing gave full voice to the singing cello with judicious use of vibrato to kindle our emotions. Engaging our hearts in the first few minutes of a concert is never a bad thing.

Beethoven’s 5th cello sonata burst upon us with a vibrant attack, its first movement becoming a showcase of brief and diverse moods. The pensive tempo of the stark second movement, a complete contrast, was leavened in its middle section by beautiful echoes of piano and cello. The fugue was taken at a cracking pace; I am sure we were all on the edge of our seats!

Tom Vignieri, now resident in the Westcountry, said what a privilege it was to hear his works performed, and since he had just revised “when the dream” we would be hearing the world premier of this revised version. ‘Southcombe’ was dreamy but deliciously substantial; ‘falling’, a cello cadenza, spooky and unnerving; whereas ‘just ours. . . there are no other souls here’ had Viv’s peals of bells across Eliana’s cello, eventually joining to near unison.

As a tribute to the late Anne Brown, pianist in whose memory the concert was sponsored, Viv played Debussy’s Clair de lune, a favourite of hers. The capacity audience, rapt in a palpable silence, felt the spaces between Viv’s notes becoming as moving as his touch.

Viv then announced another change to the printed programme: instead of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, he would play Piazzolla’s Oblivion. We heard another facet of this composer, another tango maybe, but one of subtlety, sadness and extreme beauty. Substitutions can be very rewarding: this one certainly was.

Brahms’ cello sonata No 2 is no stranger for NADSA audiences, and what a delight to hear it again. The bold opening was followed by the many themes of the exuberant first movement. The second movement’s huge mood change was superbly handled, and, with Eliana’s added vibrato, our emotions were surely stirred. Swirls of fiery passion gripped us at the beginning and end of the third movement. In the fourth, the revisiting of many themes drew us to a delightful conclusion.

This was indeed a memorable concert with glorious performances: a fitting tribute to Anne Brown, a return to NADSA of Viv McLean, hearing for the first time Eliana Yang, and having Tom Vignieri present in person. Viv sped back to London, and Eliana on to Vienna. I note that the next NADSAconcert performer will be flying in from Japan. Music at Newton Abbot is certainly international.

This concert was sponsored by Michael Brown in memory of Anne Brown.

NADSA Concert, Sunday 19th November 3.00pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.