At one point in Cello on Fire, Peter Hudler apologises to the audience for his Austrian habit of explaining everything. What is most enjoyable about this solo cello recital, however, is its sense of spontaneity and intimacy – that one has stumbled upon someone creating music for the joy of it, audience or no.
Hudler’s show is a mix of commissioned works and other compositions, with several from the performer’s friends and colleagues. Without accompaniment, he explores the different sound worlds that can be created by the cello through various techniques, creating breadth through double-stopping, rhythm through pizzicato and col legno bowing (when the strings are struck with the side of the bow) and great range through the use of harmonics.
Hudler presents a considered and exciting programme. The more successful pieces are from the modern repertoire. The New York composer John Zorn’s work ‘Zawar’ explores Jewish heritage to great effect. ‘Xanthous’ and ‘Black Run’ by the Swedish composer Svante Henryson are entertaining explorations of folk and bluegrass. In the earlier repertoire, Hudler gives an earthy and rich interpretation of dall’Abaco’s Capriccio Primo – although I have to challenge him when he describes the composer as a ‘more sensual Bach’, a statement that would not go down well with any Bach scholar… ‘Tell Me Everything’ by Ernst Reijseger makes excellent use of the performer’s range, and the works where he vocalises over the cello are especially effective.
The production is minimalist and unobtrusive. The lighting is used cleverly to support the atmosphere of the different pieces. The amplification is well-handled, although it would be wonderful to hear this programme in a venue with a better acoustic. If I had a complaint, it would be that momentum is sometimes lost between pieces, which is a shame as there is such momentum and, well, fire in the playing itself. It’s hard not to be charmed, however, when Hudler looks up the story of the nymph Syrinx on his phone to explain Debussy’s eponymous piece to the audience. There is remarkable self-possession and lack of pretension in Cello on Fire that can be rare to find at the Fringe.
I remember countless long-suffering teachers trying to impress upon me that you have to know the rules before you can bend them, more so in music than anywhere else. In Cello on Fire, we see a musician who clearly knows every inch of his instrument and its capabilities, and is adept enough to bend the rules to great effect.
Cello on Fire, presented by Peter Hudler
18:15 (50mins), until 27 August
Venue 38 SpaceTriplex Big
Suitable for all ages