Rochdale Music Society: Abel Selaocoe and Maya Irgalina

Date published: 14 May 2019

This, the last concert in Rochdale Music Society’s 2018-19 series, held at Heywood Civic Centre on Saturday 11 May proved an exciting, colourful and rewarding finale to months of the most splendid music-making by performers of international status enjoyed by the discerning citizens of Rochdale borough and beyond who have formed the audiences.

The South African cellist, Abel Selaocoe, is noted for bringing to the concert hall his exceptional talent for exploiting the whole range of sonorities offered by his instrument from scratch and scrape to sweet and soulful. On this occasion he excelled in performing solo music of several very different genres, and duets with the excellent Belarusian pianist, Maya Irgalina. Both Abel and Maya are former students of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music, which continues to produce numerous musicians like them - of first rate international acclaim.

The concert began with two movements from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3, the Prelude and Sarabande.

Bringing his personal approach to the music, Abel performed the Prelude with almost dismissive aplomb before delivering the Sarabande with an astonishing, Baroque-style vocal descant incorporating native African sounds: his inner, personal response to the music was being revealed in no uncertain way. The audience not only approved but was enthralled.

When Maya arrived to take part in Benjamin Britten’s Sonata (1965), the stage was set for an intensely moving account of this remarkably inventive music, which seems always to be searching for answers to questions it can hardly formulate. Abel and Maya convinced the audience that the search is not only necessary but aesthetically desirable, and wonderfully satisfying; even if, because of the very unaccountable nature of life’s highs and lows, joys and sorrows, attractions and repulsions, it can never reach its conclusion.

By way of contrast and of bringing some sense of emotional and intellectual closure to the first half of the concert, the ‘study in song’ which is Ravel’s “In the style of Habanera” gave them an opportunity to dance together in enchanted, perfumed sound; which they did. Strictly speaking, it was perfectly timed and delivered.

In the second half of the concert Abel continued to exhibit his extraordinary talent for leading members of his audience into sound worlds they might otherwise avoid and so miss out on. In James MacMillan’s Kiss on Wood and Giovanni Sollima’s Lamentatio he conjured up the sweetest, imploring sounds and the warmest, heartfelt, contemporary melodies you ever wish to hear, along with the most compelling, brutish cries and clamourings such as we are forced to acknowledge as inevitable features of the human condition.

Maya then showed her capacity for delighting an audience with deeply felt and convincing performances of two of Rachmaninov’s Op. 16 Moments musicaux, in spite of the unusually indifferent piano she was having to play.

The concert was brought to an end with another combined effort: a finely balanced performance of “In the style of Albeniz” by the neglected twentieth century Russian composer, Rodion Shchedrin.

With its elegantly structured Iberian flow this nicely complemented the Ravel work which had ended the first half, and it brought closure to the whole evening’s experience.

The programme notes promised that this concert: “will amuse, excite, bewitch, astound, disturb, enrage, confound and generally prove the power of music to enliven, enhance and justify your aesthetic enjoyment of life in a world where extremes of delight and despair prove all too often to provoke you to wonder WHY?”

It fulfilled this, and left us wondering whether or not the Society’s next concert series, which is its 40th anniversary year, begins in October with an evening of brass band music to be performed by the Lees & Oldham Band, will hold further life-enhancing moments of such musical magic.

We can expect as much, if not more.

Graham Marshall

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