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BWW Review: BEETHOVEN AND BEYOND at North Adelaide Baptist Church Hall

A taste of things to come.

BWW Review: BEETHOVEN AND BEYOND at North Adelaide Baptist Church HallReviewed by Ewart Shaw, Saturday 19th December 2020.

We have been digital since the dawn of time. Most of us have ten, five to each hand, and another ten tucked away in our socks. Handy things. Musicians make better use of them than others. We count in tens, hundreds, thousands. We divide by four and make two hundred and fifty. Some call this a Beethoven year, the 250th anniversary of his birth in Bonn. Some say that every year is a Beethoven year.

The newly minted Duo Rasa: Mekhla Kumar, piano, and Thomas Marlin, 'cello, have launched themselves into our attention with a concert timed roughly to the day of his birth, and have chosen to premiere their partnership in a new concert venue, the hall beside the North Adelaide Baptist Church in Tynte Street. This concert, featuring two remarkable musicians, in the intimate space of the hall, not much bigger than a shed, had a rare immediacy and candour.

Beethoven is the first major composer to free the 'cello from its subservient role as a continuo instrument, but his variations on 'See the conquering hero' from Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabeus (1796) gives the pianist so much to do, creating delicate traceries of triplets around the 'cello line. The pleasure that is gained for Handel lovers as the familiar melody is explored by the singing voice of the 'cello can easily lead to the gorgeous piano part being overlooked, especially in the third and tenth variations.

The major Beethoven work in the program was the sonata for piano and 'cello in A Major, Opus 69, written in 1808, the same year as the Pastoral Symphony. The piano still dominates but the 'cello certainly has much more to say for itself.

There were works by two other composers on the program. The Brahms E minor was represented by the Allegro non Troppo which makes greater emotional demands on the 'cello part-singing away below the staff. The primal f sharp, seconds in, roared from the instrument. Janacek's fairytale, Prohadka, allowed Marlin to play delicate pizzicati as well as legato passages. These are two works I suspect will appear in later Duo Rasa concerts. The final piece, a non-encore, was a performance of Beethoven's song 'Adelaide', and why not? An old friend sitting beside me suggested that we sang along. I reminded her of the current restrictions on audience participation.

Watching musicians can be a really special addition to the joys of the music. Kumar sits, in profile, classically erect, with the architecture of the piano, from where I was sitting, hiding the delicate pianism. Marlin's hands on the neck of the 'cello, the sweep his bowing, were almost secondary to the facial expressions, the movements of the head, his complete engagement with the instrument.

It cannot be easy, however, to perform when you know that various audience members, adult and otherwise, have their phones up filming you as you play. Watch, listen, focus, concentrate. Fifteen minutes of badly recorded sound will never be a suitable memory, compared to the sheer joy of watching and listening.

The venue possesses two pianos, one an admired Steinway, and Celia Craig is the artistic director of the space. A taste of things to come. It doesn't hold a crowd, so when concerts are advertised, book early. Tickets for this performance were through Humanitix. This is a new kid on the block where booking agencies are concerned. Their website says they make event management a delight and then direct 100% of the profits from booking fees towards education projects, such as education programs for young girls.

Whatever next for Duo Rasa, I want to be there.

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