TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

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Now into the second week of social distancing and the cancellation of concerts across the country, we have been on the lookout for artists who have been affected directly in order to bring attention to their music available digitally. The acclaimed cello duo, VC2, comprising Canadian cellists Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt has been on tour this winter. We caught up with them after a Prairie Debut livestream last week in Canmore, AB. Their recording entitled Beethoven’s Cellists features works by cellist composers who were friends of Beethoven as well as by Canadian composers, friends and colleagues of the duo. Each of the contemporary works is based on one of the five Beethoven Cello Sonatas.​


The music, both old and new is riveting. Holt and Arulanandam are superb artists whose warm tones and unassailable virtuosity is magnetic to the ear. The rhythmic complexities sound like they are romping through a maze without a care in the world. The lyrical playing is spellbinding. This duo has an irreverent approach that fills the music with a fresh energy. The album represents just a sampling of the music that the Duo found for the project, Beethoven’s Cellists.

The project began by arranging music by cellist/composers, contemporaries of Beethoven. Bernard Romberg played in the Bonn orchestra with Beethoven when they were both still teenagers. They remained lifelong friends. Anton Kraft was Haydn’s cellist and worked with Mozart. He premièred Beethoven’s 3rd Cello Sonata. Jean-Louis Duport was a virtuoso cellist associated with the Russian court when Beethoven visited Berlin. During the visit, he wrote two Cello Sonatas for Duport and his cellist brother.

The first track of the album is Romberg’s Sonata No. 1 in E minor Op. 38, brilliantly arranged by the duo. There is no need for the usual piano accompaniment here. The melodic passages have a warm melancholy, especially in the second movement.

The second part of the project includes the music commissioned for the project by Shauna Rolston Shaw, the Canadian virtuoso cellist and teacher of both Arulanandam and Holt. Each of the tracks on the album by Canadian composers are sequentially related to each of Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas.

Five Little Pieces by Andrew Downing references the Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No.1 in F Major. I was particularly impressed by the driving rhythm of the second and the hypnotically repetitive chords of the third.

Raphael Weinroth-Browne is the “Canadian wild man of the cello”. He tours with heavy metal bands and in his Triumvirate, the complex rhythms drive with vitality.

Fjóla Evans has known Bryan Holt since they shared a cello stand in their high school orchestra. Her work Ridge & Furrow references the medieval farming practice of ploughing with non-reversible ploughs on the same strip of land year after year. This retracing of the plough is represented in the music as the one cellist retracing the path of the other. In a sense she is retracing her own path as a cellist before turning her attention to composition.  

Matt Brubeck, the son of the famous jazz legend, Dave Brubeck, taught both Arulanandam and Holt while they were undergraduates at University of Toronto. His work, Entsprechung or “Correspondence” takes a four-note motive from the last movement of the 4th Cello Sonata and puts them in a blender. The result is an engaging sequence of patterns. At one point a fugue-like sequence takes over. This, I think is my favourite track on the album.

Hunter Coblentz has been a long-time colleague of Arulanandam. In Two Cellos, Dilations, he explores different tunings and creates an atmospheric piece by slowing down drastically the references to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5.

This music is worth the spending time to listen to more than once. the album can be found at https://vc2celloduo.bandcamp.com/releases and on most major streaming services. For more information about the duo, visit www.vc2celloduo.com or follow them @vc2celloduo. VC2 Cello Duo is scheduled to perform at the Toronto Summer Music Festival on July 21, 2020 at 7:30pm in the Lula Lounge.

Beethoven’s Cellists: Two cellos with music that sparks the imagination

Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt, VC2 Cello Duo
Photo credit: Bo Huang Photography

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON March 22nd 2020