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Classical music

Review: Narek Hakhnazaryan cello recital - impeccable technique, luminous tone

Those who witnessed brilliant young Armenian’s enchanting debut will remember where they heard him first - this musician is going places

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2016, 4:00pm

When Narek Hakhnazaryan becomes a familiar name - and it will - people will think back to his Hong Kong debut recital, in which the young Armenian-born cellist enchanted the audience with his impeccable technique and luminous tone in an all-French programme.

The first singing note from his cello, in Faure’s Élégie, seemed to expand the concert hall itself. The lines were long and connected, the music romantic but restrained and elegant.

Hakhnazaryan had eloquent control of his bow arm and shaded the tones with endless variety. The pitch was as pure as ice water no matter how daring the leaps. Pianist Noreen Polera also drew the audience into the piece’s poetic world with her sensitive touch and timing.

Debussy’s Cello Sonata demands a different, cooler approach. The delicate motifs sound best in a calm, still voice, and can’t take much drama and drive.

In the Finale the fast passages were sometimes slighted, speed winning out over clarity and enunciation. Hakhnazaryan’s exuberance will no doubt mellow enough over time to make these passages as beautiful as the more intense ones are now. But still, his interpretation was lively and interesting – pizzicato sections sounded wild and grotesque in a good way.

Camille Saint-Saëns’ Allegro Appassionato was ideally suited to Hakhnazaryan’s personality. He gambolled through the music like a young colt, dazzling with his left-hand agility on the fingerboard as well as his dexterity with the bow.

Fauré’s Papillon, or Butterfly, resembles Rimsky Korsakov’s perpetual-motion Flight of the Bumblebee. Although it was almost too fast to hear the pitches, it was still fun.

The performance of Fauré’s Après Un Rêve, a transcription of a song about a dream where lovers rise together toward a mysterious light, was flawless and breathtaking, the audience stilled as the cello soared up into the soprano range.

In César Franck’s Sonata in A Major, originally published for violin and later transcribed for cello, Polera was more than just support, she was an equal partner in the triumphant realisation of this formidable piece.

The opening movement was tranquil, an echo of the elegiac tone of the Fauré. The second movement, Allegro, was fast and brusque with phrases torn off at the ends as if blown away by the wind. The third movement married a great composition with magnificent playing that built to the intensity of stadium rock. The violin version arguably has advantages over the cello at some points in this piece, but here the cello won the day in power and eloquence.

The last movement combined lyricism and intensity in equal balance, with stirring octaves in the piano joining with impassioned cello strokes in a ferociously exciting performance.

Narek Hakhnazaryan, Cello Recital with Noreen Polera, Piano. Premiere Performances of Hong Kong

City Hall Concert Hall. Reviewed: 10 May