Natalie Clein

Iffley Church Hall, Saturday October 28th 2017

Natalie Clein

                                                           Photo: Neda Navaee

Natalie Clein has always been a welcome visitor to Oxford and since 2015 has been Artist in Residence and Director of Musical Performance in the University of Oxford's Faculty of Music. Her acceptance of an invitation to appear at the Iffley Music Society was greeted with great delight and, not surprisingly, she played to a capacity as well as enthusiastic audience.

Her playing expresses a unique persona that was reflected in the charming comments with which she introduced the items of her programme, engaging hearers in the joy and interest she clearly felt in her chosen music. Her approach to each work was meticulous and distinctive; her intriguingly broader-brush approach to Bach's fourth 'cello suite that began her programme, for example, contrasted with the analytic luminance of her presentation of his fifth as the last item of the evening. In both these challenging works Ms Clein demonstrated the total mastery of her instrument that has rightly established her as a world figure.

She is instinctively responsive to the resonances of Ernest Bloch's music, and the warmth of her interpretation of his first 'cello suite was a moving exegesis of a work linked in form and conception to the suites of Bach. Bloch is less often heard now than was the case some decades ago, and this is a pity. Dating from the late 1950s, his three 'cello suites have perhaps become overlooked as quieter cousins to more assertive modernisms, for example those of Kodály and Britten. Ms Clein clearly has a sense of mission, and her recordings of the Bloch suites are already being recognised as definitive in re-establishing them in the concert repertoire.

As a contrast to the 'cello idiom established by Bach, Natalie Clein included a selection of pieces from György Kurtág's collection of "Signs, Games and Messages". The surrealist freedom and inventiveness of these short pieces was strikingly displayed; idiosyncratic, even quirky, but in no sense trivial.

This was a programme presenting variety and originality in an assured context of the more familiar. Ms Clein was to be congratulated on her choice of music as well its impeccable performance.