David Pereira Cello Works

Phillip Pogson – Music Trust – March 30, 2023

Read the original article here.

Category: ClassicalNew Music

Artist(s): David Pereira (cello / composer), Lianah Jaensch (cello), Edward Neeman (piano)

Label: CD, Tall Poppies TP269

Reviewed by: Philip Pogson

“This album is a tribute to the craft of the performer-composer, an almost lost calling that classical music has begun to rediscover in recent years. Pereira has written some fine works that will hopefully find a place in the cello repertoire.”

For Australian classical music lovers of a certain age, David Pereira was, and remains, a benchmark for cello excellence. Born in Macksville, New South Wales, he studied at Sydney Conservatorium with another cello master, John Painter, graduating as ‘Student of the Year’. He then headed to the United States where he completed a masters in performance with Fritz Magg at Indiana University. Pereira has premiered numerous concertos written for him by Australian composers such as Richard Mills, Barry Conyngham, David Lumsdaine, Larry Sitsky, Mary Finsterer and Bruce Cale. In addition to the above, and alongside his mastery of the historic cello repertoire, he brought to life new Australian works by composers of the standing of Carl Vine, Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Edwards, Nigel Westlake, Elena Kats-Chernin, Mike Nock, Roger Dean, Tristram Cary, Roger Frampton, Anne Boyd, and Nigel Butterley. Pereira was for many years a member of the Australia Ensemble and has been principal cellist of both the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony – to name but three.

David Pereira

The composer/performer is also a sought after pedagogue, particularly at Canberra School of Music where Pereira has taught for some decades. This album highlights another focus of achievement, composition. He relates in the album booklet that he was both a late starter and a ‘slow learner’ as a composer, his excuse being ‘I’ve been busy becoming a better cellist…’ Several notable concert cellists have composed, not the least being Pablo Casals whilst others such as David Popper, and even Shinichi Suzuki of Suzuki Method fame, wrote technical literature for the instrument. Pereira is joined on the recording by former student now colleague, cellist Lianah Jaensch and pianist, Edward Neeman. Both cellists play modern copies of old instruments. Each extracts a wonderful, warm, deeply resonant tone from their respective tool of trade.

The opening track, Lullaby for Yvana for cello and piano, was initially improvised in response to Pereira seeing his daughter, Yvana, asleep in her cot. Pereira recorded the results, wrote it out, and later added parts for piano and harp. It is a lyrical, intense work that reflects the composer’s love of Yvana, but as he comments, ‘I could have made this music in response to any of my children.’ Although notated conventionally, cellist and pianist exercise freedom in pushing and pulling the pulse which contributes to a sense of suspended time. The cello tone is exquisite in all registers and the movement ends with a brief nod to ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’.

Those who know Canberra can’t fail to be impressed by Black Mountain, the edifice that looms behind Lake Burley Griffin. It is a place Pereira knows well having walked and runs its twists and turns in all kinds of weather. Black Mountain Views was partly composed in collaboration with artist, Micky Allan. The two worked together at Canberra School of Art to create ‘four movements/paintings…she on canvas and I on manuscript paper’. The resulting four movements for solo cello are played here by Lianah Jaensch. Early has an improvised feel, a circular melody coming back to a repeated bass note pedal. Sun is written for a terrifyingly high tessitura that is effortlessly mastered by the young cellist. The almost exclusively single note melody invokes a sun that is somewhat menacing, hot, and not easy to tame. I did find my attention wandering a little towards the end and wondered if the impact would have been more sustained in live performance. The penultimate movement, Storm, is compositionally weakest of the four movements to my ears. I did not feel the material was structurally strong enough. The final movement, Late, effectively connotes ‘an old couple sitting on their verandah at day’s end’.  Jaensch does a splendid job. Her tone is round, possessing both depth and subtlety. She is technically assured and musically insightful.

David Pereira and Lianah Jaensch

The next group of works, The Very Sad Fish Lady Suite for cello and piano not only boasts a splendid title, but it is also my favourite work on the album. Fresh, light, and imaginative, it has its origins as incidental music Pereira wrote for a puppet play by puppeteer, Joy McDonald. What is it about the magic of puppets that so stimulates the muse – Stravinsky’s Petrushka being a prime example. The eight movements are short, ranging from 40 or so seconds to a little over three and a half minutes. Some are through composed, but most take as a starting point, or inspiration, a song or piece of traditional music. McDonald was herself inspired by her love of Greece and she shared some of the music from the Mediterranean island of Castellorizo with Pereira. Several movements stand out. Frivolity, based on a tune called Like the Castle of Sourias, lives up to its name in suitably cheeky fashion. Complaining lights up the room as it leaps and dances. Crying Moon works over the song Saint Nicholas from Myrna, while the suite wraps up with the composer’s interpretation of another traditional song, Kavadoriko. Pereira remarks that the piano part was largely taken from the celeste part of the original score, which explains its bias to the top of the keyboard – which I liked. The engaging strength of the suite likely derives from the structure provided by the traditional music, and relative brevity typically required of scores written for the stage.

The two cellists, teacher and student, combine in the following tracks, Pereira’s arrangement of three Preludes from the Bach suites for solo cello, being BWV 1009, 1008 and 1012. Jaensch performs the first cello part as written with Pereira contributing the second line. Pereira is not the first musician to arrange Bach’s music, and he will not be the last. He acknowledges that at one extreme, taking the Bach works for solo cello and making them into duos, will be seen as ‘travesties’. Highly regarded Melbourne jazz pianist and composer, Joe Chindamo, faced similar criticism when he wrote a violin part to be played with the original keyboard score of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In these circumstances, the first question of some is always, ‘why?’ On the other side of the debate, the question is framed in reverse: ‘why not?’ Anyone who knows Bach, and the artistry of working composers in the Baroque era, knows that he and his colleagues arranged and re-arranged their own and other’s music as a matter of course. I am a paid-up member of the ‘why not?’ school, but in this case, I am not sure the project is uniformly successful – while acknowledging some exciting moments where the arranger draws out aspects implicit in the score, or just adds new colour. I did not get a sense that this was an ego-driven exercise but at times, the second cello in both the Prelude in C Major and D Minor did seem overly busy, and in the latter, a little Schumann-esque to my taste. There were perhaps just too many ideas competing with the Bach lines – but the harmonics toward the end are magic. As to the fast-moving D major Prelude, its inner-rhythm is so life-affirming as a solo.

One’s approach to this style of arrangement is a matter of taste and goes to whether one considers Bach’s music immutable or utterly arrange-able. As previously noted, the immutable view is difficult to sustain in the light of Bach’s regular rummaging around in, and re-using of, his own extensive back catalogue. I urge readers to listen to the Preludes-as-Duos and make up their own minds.

Pereira’s Wildfire was composed to shape the young Jaensch and ‘bring out the made extrovert in her.’ It is a self-confessed virtuosic party piece that drives out the best pianist and cellist have to offer. Both make it sound easy.

The album closes with Sonata for Cello and Piano written between 2003 and 2020. It is a substantial work that went through several iterations and benefited from contributions made by pianist Edward Neeman. Pereira is a long-term yoga practitioner and teacher, and Meditation reflects the inner peace, and suspended sense of time and place that is said to go with this discipline. The attractive spread piano chords that open the movement are punctuated with quiet pizzicato. An effective piece in and of itself.

David Pereira and Edward Neeman (ANU)

Lost Innocence ‘sounds to me a bit like Bach and Messiaen’, according to its composer. I could hear Bach and some clever neo-Baroque counterpoint, but not so much Messiaen except, perhaps, for the repeated chords of the middle section which reminds one a little of the slow cello and piano sections of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. I did think I heard little wafts of Schumann and even some influence of Copland, all nicely integrated into the mix.

Peter Sculthorpe wrote a Requiem for cello alone which, as I remember, Pereira performed and recorded. The third movement of the Sonata is also titled Requiem. Somewhat disarmingly, Pereira writes, ‘Here I surprised myself by writing something suitable for hearing at my own funeral’. Let’s hope that day is a long way off. It is a beautiful piece that shows the composer/performer at his best.

The final movement, Abandonment, takes inspiration from Bach’s D-major Prelude for solo cello, heard earlier on the album in duo form. It is a fast moving, joyful romp that brings the Sonata, and the album, to an effective and satisfying close.

This album is a tribute to the craft of the performer-composer, an almost lost calling that classical music has begun to rediscover in recent years. Pereira has written some fine works that will hopefully find a place in the cello repertoire. Tribute is also due to young cellist, Lianah Jaensch, and experienced pianist, Edward Neeman, both of whom make significant contributions to this all-Australian release from the much-feted Tall Poppies label.

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