Viennese cellist Peter Hudler returns to Edinburgh this year with his solo show, Cello on Fire. Whilst there are no pyrotechnics in sight, over the course of 50 minutes Hudler certainly puts his cello through its paces and at times it’s almost smokin,’ as he performs a varied programme mixing both contemporary and jazz music with more classical examples.
The selection of pieces is interesting and quite brave, given the music is often new and probably unfamiliar to most of the audience. Hudler eschews some standard mainstream staples in favour of rather lesser known composers. There is no Bach in sight, but there is a nod to one of his Italian contemporaries in Giuseppe Dall’Abaco. Five minutes of a bluegrass-inspired piece by Swedish composer Svante Henryson is followed by the most haunting of melodies: a jazz/Jewish fusion. There is something here for most, although not all pieces will be to everyone’s taste, and some might find it too high brow and too unfamiliar. Hudler is on one occasion required to whistle and sing along, which doesn’t seem to add to the effect and perhaps detracts somewhat from his playing.
Each piece is introduced, but Hudler doesn’t spend long building a rapport with his audience, perhaps preferring the music to do the talking. Having performed with some of Austria’s most well-known orchestras, he is undeniably talented. That talent is showcased by the breadth of his playing and the ease with which he switches between musical genres and styles. A particular highlight sees him playing pizzicato and using his cello like a guitar (with the odd bit of strumming!), while in another he creates the atmosphere of a woodland glade in the evocatively entitled Flute of Pan, a piece in which the cello could indeed be mistaken for a flute. The range and versatility of the performance is truly accomplished; closing their eyes, members of the audience would be hard pushed to believe that the whole effect is produced by only one instrument, as time and again Hudler’s clever bowing and finger work create a much more multilayered experience.
The programme is brought to a climax with a stirring Fandango, described as a ‘jazzed up Boccerini’. With a final pluck of the strings, the audience is sent out into the Edinburgh evening having experienced most of what the cello as an instrument has to offer.