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Concert Review: Pierre Fournier Award Winner at Wigmore Hall

03/11/2014 11:30 GMT | Updated 01/01/2015 10:59 GMT

At the age of twenty two, the Swiss cellist Chiara Enderle has already gained an international reputation through numerous solo performances with orchestras including Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. Her latest success is the Pierre Fournier Award for exceptional young cellists, awarded in July 2013, the year in which she was also a prize-winner at the Witold Lutoslawski International Cello Competition. The recipient of the Fournier Award is given the opportunity to perform and record a recital in the Wigmore Hall; Enderle's well-attended performance on the 20th October will have served to further establish the reputation which she has earned thus far. 'I really enjoyed it, although of course I was nervous at first', she told me afterwards. 'But the audience was great and it was motivating to see so many of my friends and family there'. She mentioned her earliest memories of the Wigmore Hall, when she would sit backstage as a young girl while her parents performed in their quartet. Enderle's parents are both successful chamber musicians. I asked to what extent this musical background shaped her own wish to pursue a cello-playing career. 'Naturally', she explained, 'being brought up by a violin and a viola player made the cello seem like the natural option. And I think it was the best choice. Obviously my parents encouraged me but they didn't push me at all. All of my father's siblings are musicians and many on my mother's side too. So I just went with it and enjoyed it.' Had there been a decisive moment when she realised that she wanted to be a professional cellist? She described being inspired, during her years at the Zurich Hochschule, by her teacher Thomas Grossenbacher (principal cellist of the Tonhalle orchestra). 'We had such a great working relationship', she says. 'It was a great feeling to have my musicianship taken seriously. So, if I had to say at what point I became certain about my career, it was as his pupil.'

Enderle spoke of the pressure of holding the audience's attention throughout a solo recital. Despite this admission of nervousness, her relaxed demeanour and assured stage-presence during Monday's concert underlined her professionalism and performing experience. The rapport between Enderle and her accompanist, Keiko Tamura, was particularly apparent during the witty moments of 'dialogue' between cello and piano in the opening work, Beethoven's Cello Sonata Op. 102, no.1 (1815). This sonata is a typically adventurous example of the composer's mature style, and Enderle made convincing sense of its unconventional two movement structure. She brought a touch of wit to the performance which resurfaced more overtly in the second half of the recital, during her interpretation of Penderecki's Capriccio per Siegfried Palm (1968) and Poulenc's Cello Sonata (1948). The Beethoven sonata was followed by Schumann's Fantasiestücke Op. 73 (1859), originally written for the clarinet, before the composer acknowledged its suitability for viola or cello. The poise and elegance with which she articulated each phrase within these three short, tender pieces demonstrated her mature musicianship.

Penderecki's Capriccio afforded full scope for a display of Enderle's exuberant instrumentalism. The work seemed to squeeze into its brief seven-minute duration the entire gamut of technical possibilities achievable on the cello. The cello became a percussion instrument, and almost took on the role of a prop: chuckles were heard in the audience during passages of exaggeratedly blithe pizzicato, and at various moments when Enderle slapped her cello. She conveyed a suitable theatricality to the piece's myriad juxtapositions of timbres and techniques, which, if heard simply on a recording, project nothing of the wit and charm communicated during a live performance. As a true tour-de-force work within the cello repertoire, the Poulenc sonata provided a fitting close to her recital. While less challenging in terms of complex techniques than the Penderecki, the sonata demands a tremendous versatility which stretches even the most accomplished professional to his/her limits. She moved with panache through the almost manic oscillation between rich lyrical gestures and boisterous, burlesque-like themes, typical of the composer's musical eclecticism. Enderle pleased the audience with an encore, playing the hushed Largo from Chopin's Cello Sonata Op. 65 (1846), which provided a suitable contrast to the buoyancy of the final movement of Poulenc's sonata.

Of her Wigmore performance, she claimed to have most enjoyed performing the Penderecki, partly because of the responsiveness of the audience. 'I learnt it quite a while ago', she explained, 'and, obviously, it was a real challenge, mastering the way it was written and the symbols. But having learnt it, it becomes a much more 'low maintenance' work; it offers the ultimate freedom for the performer'. Her implication here was that the performance was not dictated by the explicit notational conventions of the classical tradition. I wondered if her fondness for the Penderecki indicated a preference for contemporary classical repertoire, but she insisted that she enjoys the canonical classical repertoire equally. On the subject of her favourite concerto she told me: 'It would be hard not to choose the Schumann or Dvorak concertos. But earlier this year I performed Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante in E minor with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, which was incredibly fun. So right now, I would say that that is my concerto of choice."

Enderle mentioned Steven Isserlis as one of the greatest influences on her own playing. 'If you admire someone', she explained, 'it's natural to emulate their playing to some extent, while still finding your own way of doing things. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with him over the past five years, having masterclasses at Prussia Cove, which is such a beautiful, hidden away place in the middle of nowhere.' How did she find Isserlis's reportedly intimidating manner? 'People had warned me about how 'scary' he could be', she laughed. 'But I knew not to take his jokes and rather sharp comments too personally'. Enderle has participated regularly in the Open Chamber Music festival held at Prussia Cove, and she clearly has a love of chamber performance. 'My dream is to find a pianist who I can collaborate with regularly. So far it's proving difficult to find the right player who is also around the same age as me'. Perhaps this is unsurprising. She half-joked that, having been immersed throughout her life in the string quartet repertoire (thanks to her parents), she felt drawn more towards other setups, particularly the piano trio.

I ended my interview with Enderle by asking if she had any advice to impart to young cellists facing the daunting prospect of preparing for high-level competitions, such as the Pierre Fournier Award. 'My main advice would be not to get too obsessed by the competitive aspect, and to try and treat it as just another concert performance.' She herself values these events as important occasions for 'getting to know yourself under pressure', rather than about winning. In fact, she suggested, the intense practice necessary for the pursuit of technical perfection in the run-up to a big competition, should be enough in itself, regardless of the outcome. Not winning, she said, might be a better outcome, because it keeps one's drive and determination alive. In January, Enderle will perform the Beethoven Triple Concerto in Toledo (USA), which, by a happy coincidence, was not far from where her mother grew up. She also returns to the UK to perform Shostakovich's Cello Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra in April (a collaboration which arose from the Fournier Award).