Jonathan Roozeman (cello), Jan-Paul Roozeman (piano): Works by Debussy, Schubert, Boccherini, Chopin and Sibelius, Playhouse, March 31, 2019.


The Vancouver Recital Society’s love of young pianists has been one of their long-standing hallmarks, but there now seems to be a growing fondness for young cellists too. Last season, exciting 25-year-old French cellist Edgar Moreau appeared, and this year 20-year-old Finnish/Dutch cellist Jonathan Roozeman arrived with his pianist brother Jan-Paul to play duo works by Debussy, Schubert and Boccherini and a number of less well-known pieces. Family associations go a long way in creating subliminal communication between artists, and that was evident here: the siblings displayed both ‘togetherness’ and an appealing fresh energy in their playing. The cellist displayed impressive technical variety and tonal beauty throughout, though he understandably has room to develop in both style and character. Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata was the highlight of the concert.

The smaller works comprised about a third of the programme’s length and showcased Jonathan Roozeman’s strong technical abilities. In Debussy’s very early Nocturne and Scherzo (1882), he demonstrated remarkable control through the opening rhapsodic passage – beautifully crafted and clearly defined. Yet the work seemed to progress rather unadventurously; perhaps more French colour would have helped it. Balance sometimes favoured the piano in Chopin’s Polonaise Brilliant, but the cellist registered some of his most beautiful and musically surprising moments, employing artful diminuendos in the large shifts to the upper octaves of his instrument and adding a convincing easefulness. Nonetheless, the approach may have still been a little too straight and serious for such a wonderfully frivolous piece; more of an alla rustica feeling could have been generated by adding rubato (or space) between the accented notes. Brimming in brilliance, the work definitely ended the first half of the concert with an impressive bang. Jan Sibelius’s two short works: Romance Op. 78 No. 2, and Mallinconia Op. 20, took one to the obscure reaches of the repertoire: I had never heard them, and applaud the duo’s inventive programming. The former was well performed, though the piece was not especially memorable. The latter was mainly rhapsodic in design, with the music often featuring alternating statements by the cello and piano.


Of the bigger works, the Debussy Sonata is very well known and often performed, and there was a lot to be enjoyed here. Jonathan Roozeman’s technique is surprisingly efficient and effective, and he is strongly in touch with the ‘cellistic’ features of the work. I am not sure if his sound was as French as it might have been, and I also think that there was some lack of penetration of the distinct characters within the piece. These might have been better exposed if the duo had tapped into the work’s more playful elements and added more rubato. Jan-Paul’s delicacy on the piano was noteworthy – as it was throughout the concert – though he might have been more demonstrative at the opening.

The Boccherini sonata might invite an attempt at period style but the approach here was definitely modern: the cellist employed vibrato freely and did not shy away from a clean and dense contact of bow on string. His technical proficiency was notable: his left hand was crisp and articulate, and the duo were not afraid to explore the range of quiet dynamics that both instruments (and the venue) could handle – quite appreciated by the audience. This work is not one of the favourite ‘classical’ sonatas for cellists to perform. Played in modern garb, it has a certain pseudo-romantic sweep and grace – reminiscent of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D – but considerably less character and contrast overall.


The main attraction of the recital was the ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata by Schubert, written for the now seldom-played Arpeggione, a fretted instrument with 6 strings which was held and bowed much like a cello. Roozeman’s cello sound was well-suited to this work, his vibrato shimmered, and his instrument shone. The first movement has a songlike quality which he brought out beautifully, and the conversation between the piano and cello was clearly defined. One concern might have been the playing of the last two chords, which were extended considerably. I actually liked the surprise of the final chord but am not yet sold on its length. The second movement was lovely too, with the cellist finding a special resonance on his D string. This movement has great simplicity and was communicated with great ease and calm here – just as it should be – while the final arpeggiation was delicate and beautiful. The closing movement is more upbeat but of lower quality thematically and requires the performers to bring out more of their own character and drama. The duo went some distance in this direction but, on balance, they might have been more expressive. That said, Jonathan’s approach to the second theme was on point, finding a fun and energetic quality, even verging on the aggressive, and this was a nice reprieve from the somewhat lackluster first theme. Generally, this was very successful and strongly received by the audience. The encore was Paganini's Variations on One String.

Overall, this concert could not help but be enjoyable. Seeing two brothers who have played together since the age of seven must exude a certain charm in the first place, but it was their innate responses to each other and the clear energy and freshness they brought to both familiar and less familiar works that provided the captivation. Even if the current interpretations revealed some innocence, there is little doubt as to the talent and potential of either artist. Unquestionably, they see each other as equal partners in performance, but it may be a small point to advocate that both artists play either with musical score or without. Jonathan’s lack of sheet music in two of the three sonatas seemed contrary this particular protocol of collaboration.


© Laine Longton 2019


Laine Longton is a Doctoral Candidate in Cello Performance at the University of British Columbia. She is a member of the Vancouver Island Symphony, and also performs with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra. She teaches throughout Vancouver and performs regularly in chamber/solo recitals and musical theatre. Her doctoral studies focus on contemporary extended techniques for the cello. She is a recipient of the Harry and Frances Adaskin and the DC & HL Knigge Graduate Scholarships in Music, and the Dr. Geoffrey Newman Graduate Award in Music.