Who: Ashley Brown and Michael Houstoun
Where and when: Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Silver Rd, Epsom, Saturday April 10 at 7pm
Ashley Brown is best known as the man behind the cello in NZTrio, although many concertgoers will also remember his years as principal cellist with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in the 1990s.
Next Saturday he joins pianist Michael Houstoun on the Raye Freedman stage in a recital of Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Faure. This is their second pairing, the first being an outstanding university recital in 2007. Brown relishes "playing with a living legend, although I know Michael doesn't embrace that concept and sees us as coming together on an equal footing. It's just very, very special."
As for the pianist's prodigious track record, Brown notes with a hearty laugh that "Michael's already played all the pieces we're doing when he accompanied at last year's Adam International Cello Competition. He's done them with whippersnappers from all around the world and has lots of cool ideas."
Brown sighs when I turn to conversation to his own younger days, going back to his childhood, when he was taken to hear the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in Auckland Town Hall.
"I went right up the front and sat on the floor in front of the cellos. I just gazed at them," he remembers. "I'm not sure it was because of their sound or their sheer size. There was something so natural about them."
He too feels an extraordinary bond with his instrument. "When I'm playing, the cello vibrates against me and, as it has the same register as my voice, it's almost as if it's part of me."
Brown is quick to credit those who have influenced him. The charismatic Alexander Ivashkin at Canterbury University who "grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and got me playing" and the great Brazilian cellist Aldo Parisot with whom he studied at Yale University, "a man of few words but every single one cut to the core".
Parisot's "fiery South American temperament" certainly left its mark.
"We were encouraged to take a bit of a showbiz point of view, especially when performing live so you make sure every seat in the house is getting the full power of what you're doing."
Little wonder that Ashley Brown is a fervent admirer of Latvian cellist Mischa Maisky, especially in partnership with Martha Argerich. "They're just so eccentric and wild," Brown beams, with obvious approval. "They take things to the very extreme. You hear them do one of the Mendelssohn Songs without Words and can't help but say, 'Man, that's a whole new take'."
There will certainly be opportunities for Brown and Houstoun to wax wild and dramatic with Rachmaninov's G minor Sonata next Saturday; Brown admits that the work is "big, loud and full-bore".
"Some people have said it's like a piano sonata with cello accompaniment. I wouldn't go that far but to some degree the struggle for balance is part of what the work's about."
He is fascinated by the way the extreme and visible physical activity on the part of a cellist does not necessarily make for a bigger sound.
"You can throw yourself into the lower and middle register and just end up sliding over the top of the strings. You have to temper your energy, direct it and focus it."
The two Beethoven Sonatas of Opus 102 seem the inevitable follow-up to Brown and Houstoun's riveting 2007 performance of Opus 69.
These late scores offer challenges in some intense fugal writing and achingly lovely slow movements.
"You have to get the tempo tuned absolutely precisely. If it's too slow, the piano has trouble sustaining the sound and I find myself running out of bow. Get it right and it all fits beautifully."