Music at Paxton

Laura van der Heijden and Tom Poster

Picture Gallery, Paxton House

Keith Bruce

four stars

A SHORT question-and-answer session at the end of BBC Young Musician winner Laura Van Der Heijden’s recital with pianist Tom Poster on Friday evening hinted at so much that was good about this year’s summer celebration of chamber music at Paxton House near Berwick. There seemed to be a real spirit of exploration in the attitude of the performers which was appreciated by a knowledgeable and curious audience. The line-up of artists new artistic director Angus Smith had invited was superb – Wednesday’s concert by pianist Pavel Kolesnikov a particular stand-out by all accounts – and Poster was one of those whose musical personality had been illustrated during a short residency, which this duo had concluded.

The young cellist had only this performance to communicate that, and a journey from Bach to Brahms via Britten and Nadia Boulanger  suggested that she is keen to have a career with all Poster’s well-established versatility. The pair have a fine balance, with no sense of Poster backing off at all in the opening Bach Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord, as she matched the muscle he brought to performance on modern instruments, and the trading of rhythmic accents in the finale especially effective.

Britten’s C Major Sonata, written for Rostropovich, is a favourite of the cellist and a virtuosic showpiece for her instrument, showcasing its full range with the piano used to point up every variation in pitch and expression. The 3 Pieces for Cello and Piano by Nadia Boulanger, on the other hand, are quintessentially French conversations of partnership, very redolent of Ravel and Debussy.

The typically troubled gestation of Brahms’s First Cello Sonata resulted in a big work that needs a generous amount of time and space, and there was a suspicion that the pair’s last piece (excepting a lovely encore of Rachmaninov’s Vocalese) was just a little rushed at points, with Van Der Heijden pushing the pace. If that slightly impaired the drama of the transition from the second into the third movement, the perfectly synchronised flourish of the final bars made more than amends.