Alexander Baillie / James Lisney, Wigmore Hall, LONDON <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

It is our great loss that we hear the British cellist Alexander Baillie so rarely in this country. Some time ago, he made Germany his home, and it was after a performance of all Beethoven's cello sonatas at the Tetbury Festival a couple of years ago that the Dutch composer Jan Vriend decided to write a work for Baillie and his pianist, James Lisney.

The composer's note to this substantial half-hour work, Anatomy of Passion (which received its world premiere), speaks of Beethoven's "ominous shadow always lurking over my shoulders" and "an homage to Iannis Xenakis", but then "the overall design ... is much more the fruit of Debussy's last works, such as the Violin and Cello Sonatas". Since Baillie preceded Vriend's piece with Debussy's masterful Sonata, its quixotic spirit at first seemed fairly and squarely to belong to Vriend. Baillie had given a fantastic reading of the Debussy, picking up on every nuance, colour and whimsy, the Serenade, in particular, full of urgency and mystery. Debussy's work is strange and unpredictable, but its genius is its logic. Alas, not so with Vriend, who works a number of ideas coherently, but, unlike Debussy, doesn't know when to stop. Indeed, with its hectic scampering and slow chordal glissandi, it graphically reminded me of a wind-up toy. There could be a fine piece hidden, but at least 10 minutes needs to be shorn from its hulk.

The second half brought Beethoven's two Op 102 sonatas. Baillie is a wonderful storyteller; his own wonderment at the music so warm-heartedly communicated. At the beginning of Op 102 no. 1, Baillie played Beethoven's opening phrase with a grace and tenderness matching Beethoven's instruction "teneramente, dolce cantabile". And in the succeeding Allegro, so crisp rhythmically, the triplets so finely articulated, here was an urgent new story. The Adagio was serious improvisation, while the weird open fifths of the following Allegro sounded as modern as Debussy.

In Lisney, Baillie has found a soul mate. Time again, the give and take between them spoke volumes about their music-making: generous; intelligent; always listening.