It’s often said that the cello is the instrument closest to the human voice, and so it felt hearing the expressive tone that Guy Johnston produced in his recital with pianist Melvyn Tan. Johnston is a most contained performer, intent on finding a way of allowing every phrase to breathe and speak naturally.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the wonderful lyricism of the Largo movement of Chopin’s G minor sonata, lines spun out with bowing and vibrato perfectly coordinated. Yet the virtuosity of the work as a whole demands an equal partnership, and this it certainly was. With the piano angled for optimum communication and ensuring a responsiveness both to the music and to each other, Johnston and Tan captured the whole range of emotions: exuberant, tender, and, even in the last bravura gestures, somehow plaintive and characteristically Chopin.
In the Seven Variations by Beethoven on Mozart’s aria Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen from The Magic Flute, they had brought careful attention to details of harmonic and melodic inflection, the sense of the younger composer paying tribute emerging particularly in the reflective minor mode. The dream-like succession of ideas in Schumann’s Fantasiestücke simply flowed and, in the fiery third movement, the enthusiastic Tan seemed to urge Johnston into more expansive mode again by way of preparation for the Chopin to come.
Mendelssohn’s Lied ohne Worte, Op 109, played as an encore, gave a final taste of Johnston’s honeyed tone, Tan in sympathetic accord.
Available on BBC Sounds and Wigmore Hall live. The Wigmore Hall lunchtime series continues on Radio 3 until 26 June.