cottetFresh from his success as Second Prizewinner at the prestigious Leeds International Competition, Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel, with cellist Lionel Cottet, delighted the enthusiastic members of Milverton Concert Society at the opening concert of the 2012/13 season in Milverton Church on 5 October.

The programme opened with Beethoven’s youthful Sonata in G minor, a work full of expressive innovation and moods shifting from ominous anticipation to sunny nonchalance. It received a performance of extreme sensitivity, delicacy and virtuosity – ‘too fast’, thought this reviewer before recalling that the composer was scarcely older than the 25-year old performers: this was young men’s music, interpreted appropriately.

There followed some transcriptions of well-known Schubert songs. These too were exquisitely played, with the cello delivering the extended vocal lines with glowing tone, and more exceptional piano playing, especially in the fiendishly difficult ‘Erlkönig’. Yet the concept of transcribing familiar songs somehow failed to convince, however beautiful the result; without the words, some of the musical gestures are difficult to understand.

After the interval, Louis Schwizgebel played an item from his prize-winning programme – Haydn’s Sonata in C, in which the composer indulged his fascination with newly-discovered English pianos with writing that was technically and musically ground-breaking – and challenging. Schwizgebel offered an impeccable performance, full of subtlety and wit, each note delivered with crystalline clarity.

Finally, we heard Brahms’ Sonata in E minor – one of the towering heights of the repertoire for cello and piano, notorious for the difficulty of achieving balance between the two instruments. On this occasion there was no problem – the cello of Lional Cottet predominated, singing out with dramatic power and lyrical intensity. Louis Schwizgebel chose to keep the lid of the piano half-closed, and played with the delicacy and finesse which are clearly his hallmark; but one listener at least felt that a more muscular, Romantic tone was needed. The performance was different from Brahms as usually played, but musically coherent and intriguing, and compelled the listener to re-consider.

As an encore, the audience was treated to the slow movement from Chopin’s Cello Sonata, which brought the evening to a rapt and radiant close.

Footstamping, whoops and cheers are not always heard at concerts of chamber music: on this occasion they were amply justified and deserved.

Review by Andrew Carter