Classical review: Tennant-Austin Duo, Town Hall Concert Chamber

By William Dart

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James Tennant and Catherine Austin are life partners.
James Tennant and Catherine Austin are life partners.

A Sunday afternoon recital by the Tennant-Austin Duo provided a stylish launch for Auckland's concert year.

Partners for decades, on and off stage, James Tennant and Katherine Austin have developed their own distinctive and authoritative voice over a wide range of repertoire for cello and piano.

Some years back, the pair delivered an impressive cycle of the five Beethoven Sonatas; on Sunday they chose the fourth.

Tennant, playing from memory, with Austin finely attuned to the slightest murmur of his bow, explored the volatile world of late Beethoven with a tenacity and attention to detail that melded the spiritual with the rollicking.

Moving into the 20th century, the duo fully embraced the youthful romanticism of Samuel Barber's 1933 sonata. Passion ruled in its outer Allegros, and the musicians were admirably relaxed in the juxtaposition of simple song and twisting scherzo of the central movement.

There would be more fervour to come in Schumann's yearning Fantasy-Pieces, but the afternoon's highlight was clearly signposted on the programme as the world premiere of a new work by John Psathas. The composer introduced Halo in person, mentioning that this score was inspired by his mother's death.

The brooding prayer of its opening meditation contrasted with the teasing rhythms of the Turkish-inspired second movement.

The 10-minute Finale encapsulated much that had gone before. Tennant and Austin fearlessly tackled its gnarly toccata. When rage subsided, and sonic clouds parted, the composer revealed his masterstroke: an ethereal "halo" effect, discreetly sampled from Austin's piano earlier.

Next month, the festival production of No Man's Land showcases Psathas' current interest in global cultural blending, but the power of Halo makes one hope that the composer doesn't desert the traditional concert stage.


What: Tennant-Austin Duo
Where: Town Hall Concert Chamber
When: Sunday

- NZ Herald

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