Steven Osborne and Alban Gerhardt

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

WHEN I first heard German cellist Alban Gerhardt in the company of pianist Steven Osborne at Orkney’s St Magnus Festival, we were all much younger men. That recital partnership of more than 20 years – so evident in the instinctive communication between the two for the duration of a brilliantly-conceived programme – made this a perfect celebration of the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Queen’s Hall as a performance venue by Her Majesty.

As is illustrated by a specially-commissioned Marco Bevilacqua mural in the bar, depicting some of the famous faces who have graced its stage, and as chairman Nigel Griffiths made clear in his welcome, the diversity of the music this “venue for everyone” has hosted is quite startling. For many, however, it is the home of Edinburgh International Festival’s chamber music programme, and this duo are world-class exponents of repertoire both written and arranged for their instruments.

Dating from a period of mental stability and prolific production in Robert Schumann’s life, the Five Pieces in a Folk Style are a perfect example of the former, the cello leading the conversation, before, usually briefly, assuming an accompanying role in the sequence. In every sense they prefaced the much weightier Sonata in F by Brahms of 35 years later, in which Gerhardt demonstrated a wide range of timbre playing pizzicato, and the debt to Schumann in the lovely slow movement is followed by much more forward-looking music.

If the interplay between the musicians was exemplary in that piece, the fireworks came after the interval. Gerhardt has recorded the lullaby from the Seven Popular Spanish Songs by Manuel de Falla on his disc of encore pieces favoured by his hero Pablo Casals, but here was a chance to hear the whole set, originally composed for a soprano but adopted by a range of instrumentalists. De Falla admired the evocation of an Evening in Grenada in the central piece Debussy’s Estampes, which has featured in Osborne’s most recent solo recording and recitals and which gave the cellist a brief respite before a virtuosic trio of works by Maurice Ravel, none of them written for his instrument, culminating in a truly breath-taking Tzigane.