Renowned cellist Leonard Elschenbroich
spins magic with talented friend on piano
By Neville Bowman
Special to the Daily Courier
There are some instances in life when we meet people who are so good at what they do, they are considered among the best, performing at a level where the very word "best" becomes subjective, hard to quantify. As a musician myself, I have an understanding of what it takes to get there, and just how remarkably rare it is to hear such people perform. The most recent Kelowna Community Concert Association presentation gave us two such people, a rare evening of "pure" classical music in the form of cello and piano.
Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexei Grynyuk presented "just" three pieces for the entire evening. The first half consisted of Brahms' Cello Sonata in E Minor, followed by his Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs). Very little was said by the artists (Leonard spoke only once after the first Brahms selection), leaving the music uninterrupted, something to which even the relatively experienced KCCA audience was unaccustomed. An amusing consequence of this occurred after the first sonata, when the lights came up and some of the crowd left their seats, thinking it was intermission. We aren't used to such concert formats here.
I am quite honestly not qualified to say much about their performance. They are on another level. What was most remarkable to me was the connection they both had with any given piece. Every entrance, every crescendo, tempo change, tenuto, note cutoff — all were done seamlessly to create a single sound out of the two very different instruments. Alexei was excellent at balancing the volume of the big Steinway with Leonard, only once briefly overpowering the cello. It wasn't surprising, considering how long they have played together and the multitude of awards and accolades earned by both. There was a particular polyrhythmic section in the third movement of the Brahms Sonata that just left me shaking my head at how easy they made it sound — a sign of true masters of their craft.
The second half of the evening was devoted to Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata in G Minor. This sonata was much more energetic and aggressive than the Brahms, and really showed the power that both instruments can have. I suspect some people found the Brahms a bit sleepy and left afterwards, which was a real pity. The Rach was spectacular. I must make special mention of Lyndsey Wong, who stepped in as a page turner for Alexei, a very intimidating task to do for performers of this calibre!
I also want to make a very special mention of Betty Skilbeck, one of the driving forces behind KCCA for many years. Having been president and concert programmer, Betty is now stepping away to manage other aspects of her life, and was directly involved in the initial (pre-Covid) booking of Leonard Elschenbroich. She will be very much missed, in her drive, charm and some quite memorable gowns! Please all welcome Sharon Attree as the new Programme Chair; she’s already off to a strong start, judging by next season's lineup.
Classical music in such a pure form is not something we often hear. It's a rare treat to hear, and much rarer to hear two musicians whose skill and passion can bring new life to old music. Leonard and Alexei delivered an evening more often reserved for the great halls of historic cities, and it was nice to speak with them afterwards and find them easygoing and relaxed (especially considering the value of the 330-year-old cello sitting in the back).
Once again, thanks to KCCA for bringing in this renowned duo. I highly encourage people to get on the waiting list for next season!
Neville Bowman is a local actor and musician