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When Youth Meets Passion

New York
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
12/09/2008 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata for Cello and Piano N°5 in D Major, Opus 102, No. 2
Zoltán Kodály: Sonata for Solo Cello, Opus 8
Frédéric Chopin: Barcarole in F-sharp Major, Opus 60 – Sonata for Cello and Piano, Opus 65
Osvaldo Golijov: Oraramor for Solo Cello

Alisa Weilerstein (Cello), Inon Barnatan (Piano)

What prompted attendance at this concert was Alisa Weilerstein’s performance of the Penderecki Second Cello Concerto last month. That was so impressive, so non-stop brilliant, that it called for an encore. Or a whole evening of encores. Except that in this concert, the 26-year-old artist, with an Israeli accompanist just one year her junior, weren’t ready to perform the usual. They are too young, too dynamic and too daring.

No Bach solo partita, no Brahms sonata. The third B was represented by a late Beethoven sonata, not the usual early classical works. And we had two solo pieces for cello, the famed Kodály Sonata, and the second Golijov work in Carnegie Hall this week. That was hardly surprising, since Ms. Weilerstein frequently performs works by the Argentinean composer. The more familiar Chopin Sonata finished up a program which—if nothing else—had to be more arduous than any solo performer had a right to perform.

The Golijov Oraramor—based on the name of an Argentine playwright and the word for love—was only eight minutes long, but it seemed more complex than longer works, like his opera last Sunday. In this case, the theme was the tango. But around the tango were sounds which hid the rhythms until the very end. At that point, Ms. Weilerstein used the cello as guitar and solo together, with some rather fiery rhythms.

This, though, was not the prize work of the evening. That belonged to the Hungarian composer with his 32-minute finger-breaking, string-snapping—and absolutely enjoyable—Magyar sonata. While the second movement is pure Hungarian folk song, Mr. Kodály used the rhythms of Hungary—not gypsy, but the real Hungarian songs which he and Bartók had discovered many years before. I have the feeling that the excuse for its rarity is that it is too ethnic, unlike, say the more abstract Solo Violin Sonata by Bartók.

The real reason is that nobody in their right mind would dare play it in public.

Ms. Weilerstein met the challenge with coolness and courage. From the very first booming chord, she launched into a virtual thesaurus of pizzicatos, harmonics, glissandi, three- or four-string chords, arpeggios and resonances. But this was not show-off stuff. Never breaking away from his heritage, yet keeping an originality and apparently a phenomenal knowledge of the cello, he made it into a work of intensive interest. By the time Ms. Weilerstein ended with a virtual one-girl village band, we were exhausted. She looked simply cool.

The Beethoven and always interesting Chopin showed an excellent artist at work—but the prize might also go to accompanist Inon Barnatan. Mr. Barnatan was a soloist himself in the Chopin Barcarolle, showing total fire. One expects little else in a pianist his age, but his Chopin was fervent, almost ferocious. Thus, his accompanying in the Beethoven and Chopin works almost overwhelmed Ms. Weilerstein. Not dynamically, but their balance was excellent. But because she showed a sense of poetry, while he had the panache.

It was still a good pairing. Not only for themselves, but because their choices were fascinating, their challenges overpowering, and their results so memorable.

Harry Rolnick



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