En­cores away

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews -

It was cruel of cel­list Pi­eter Wis­pel­wey to play the sec­ond move­ment of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata as his only en­core at April 19’s recital pre­sented by the Santa Fe Con­cert As­so­ci­a­tion. He per­formed this grotesque scherzo bril­liantly, fully as well as ev­ery­thing else he touched. But its three min­utes were not enough to sate the hunger pangs churn­ing in the aes­thetic in­nards of the au­di­ence by the time he reached the end of the frail Beethoven-and-Schu­bert pro­gram he had con­structed.

Beethoven and Schu­bert were two of the great­est com­posers, but that doesn’t mean that ev­ery­thing they wrote was golden. In this recital, Beethoven was rep­re­sented by the three sets of vari­a­tions he com­posed for cello and pi­ano — one on a theme by Han­del, two on themes by Mozart — dur­ing his first decade as an emerg­ing com­poser in Vi­enna. Slight and pre­dictable though they are, these are use­ful pieces. Cel­lists of­ten drop one or an­other of them into a recital to off­set more sub­stan­tial fare, and when they per­form tra­ver­sals of Beethoven’s five cello sonatas (nor­mally dis­trib­uted over two recitals), the vari­a­tions pro­vide pleas­ant punc­tu­a­tion be­tween the prin­ci­pal items. On their own, they add up to lit­tle.

Schu­bert was some­what bet­ter rep­re­sented, but even his Ar­peg­gione Sonata is at most a ban­tamweight in his cat­a­log and in a cel­list’s po­ten­tial reper­toire. It’s not even a cello piece, strictly speak­ing; but since the ar­peg­gione, a pe­cu­liar hy­brid of a bass viol and a gui­tar, dis­ap­peared not long af­ter Schu­bert did, this work is nor­mally en­trusted to­day to cello (or some­times flute). Lovely it is, but it’s not a mas­ter­piece. The in­ter­pre­ta­tion was id­iomatic and thought­ful, the ada­gio mov­ing more fleetly than we of­ten hear it, the fi­nale lop­ing along in a spirit of re­laxed gemütlichkeit. Wis­pel­wey’s play­ing was ev­ery­where im­pec­ca­ble, as was Paolo Gi­a­cometti’s sen­si­tive, sup­port­ive pi­anism. A thor­oughly mod­ern cel­list, Wis­pel­wey prefers the clar­ity of his­tor­i­cally in­formed style (much cul­ti­vated in his na­tive Hol­land) to the soul­ful out­bursts of the late-Ro­man­tic cello tra­di­tion. Though he is a sub­tly ex­pres­sive player, his ex­pres­siv­ity is of a purely mu­si­cal sort. His cen­tered tone is never ster­ile. At any moment, his en­tire world seems to be dis­tilled into the shad­ing of a sin­gle at­tack, the en­er­giz­ing of a sus­tained tone, or the gra­da­tion of a re­strained vi­brato.

Hav­ing en­joyed two sets of Beethoven vari­a­tions and the Schu­bert sonata, quite a few mem­bers of the au­di­ence made their exit dur­ing in­ter­mis­sion. I can’t blame them: a glance at the pro­gram con­firmed that the sec­ond half of the con­cert would be more of the same. It was sim­i­larly ge­nial but, from a mu­si­cal stand­point, still more mo­not­o­nous, since the con­clud­ing item, Schu­bert’s C-Ma­jor Fan­tasy for Vi­o­lin and Pi­ano (here in Wis­pel­wey’s own cello tran­scrip­tion) is it­self fo­cused on a set of vari­a­tions, in this case de­rived from one of Schu­bert’s songs. Writ­ten at the be­gin­ning of his fi­nal year, it’s an es­timable but not im­por­tant com­po­si­tion, and it un­der­scores that Schu­bert’s ex­or­bi­tant gifts did not ex­tend to be­ing a good edi­tor. It’s a 22-minute piece that doesn’t con­tain 22 min­utes of in­spi­ra­tion. Wis­pel­wey’s play­ing and mu­si­cian­ship were of the first or­der; his pro­gram­ming, not so much. I do hope he’ll pay a re­turn visit, and that he’ll bring along the rest of the Shostakovich Sonata when he does.

— James M. Keller

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