Hillsdale, New York
Local culture
10 November 2019 09:20AM
John Isaacs

I love, more than any other classical instrument, the cello, and think I can safely say I know a good cellist when I see one.

The British composer Benjamin Britten was a champion of the cello. In the 1960s, he wrote a series of cello sonatas and suites with piano, in particular for his friend and collaborator Mstislav Rostropovich. I never witnessed Rostropovich playing live, but having delighted in his countless recordings, I have no doubt that he ranks among the Twentieth Century’s greatest cellists.

I did, however, have the extraordinary experience, when I was a mere thirteen years old, of being there when just as masterful and acclaimed a cellist, János Starker, performed Bach’s six cello suites in the nave of Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff, Wales. “Being there”, however, does not adequately describe the surreal experience of being in the front row of a small audience in such a vast space and directly under Jacob Epstein’s awe-inspiring sculpture “Christ in Majesty”. I have to say, it was one of the seminal experiences of my childhood.

It was thus with sheer delight that when my partner and I arrived (late) at Ralph and Debbie Gardner’s lovely, sprawling house in Omi last weekend for an intimate chamber concert, we were hurriedly seated in the (almost) front row, where we were enchanted for an hour or more by Clare Monfredo (cello) and Ari Livne (piano) playing suites, first by Beethoven, then by Brahms, and finally one of Britten’s crazy masterpieces. All with extraordinary precision and flair.

The occasion was a celebration of the Gardners’ inheritance and restoration of Ralph’s late mother’s antique Steinway grand, and its qualities were on full display in the hands of Mr. Livne. But Ms. Monfredo’s cello was of course the star, and her luxurious, expressive playing did perfect justice to both the instrument and the pieces themselves.

We stayed for conversation with friends from around the county, wine and delectables, and so departed physically and spiritually refreshed after a sublime afternoon.

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