CHOPIN; GRIEG; SCHUMANN Cello Sonatas (Segev & Pohjonen)
Chamber music acoustics can be a very personal thing. There’s a tendency today towards either crystal clarity or something a bit more resonant and glossy. Neither for me quite captures the essence of small-scale music-making – the immediacy of being up close in a small space with musicians who are communicating as much with each other as with their listeners. Inbal Segev and Juho Pohjonen have thought hard about this, and their choice of venue – the Academy of Arts and Letters, New York – has an acoustic which genuinely complements the sound that these players make together.
Which is? Well, it’s not what you’d call showy. Segev’s cello tone is focused and eloquent; matte and viola-like in its upper register, it fills out warmly on the bottom strings. Pohjonen can be both limpid and brilliant but, again, there’s no superficial sheen – it’s a sound that blooms from within. Together, they perform these three works with a restraint and a confiding quality that I initially found disconcerting. ‘Aristocratic’ was my note as Segev placed the opening phrases of the Chopin Sonata.
Still, that’s no bad thing in Chopin – and these performances quickly get under your skin. You start to feel the rhythmic spring that the pair give to Chopin’s Scherzo, their way of letting a melody unfurl without fussiness, and a quiet, vibrant alertness that never flags, even in slow movements. Schumann’s third Fantasiestück is a little masterclass in how to channel rhythmic energy – and in Grieg’s Sonata they soar. Grieg’s long-breathed first movement accumulates an unstoppable sweep, and Segev and Pohjonen ride the dance rhythms of the finale with a verve and a swing that feels like a genuine release. So there you go: it’s the quiet ones you have to watch.