Bartok: Rhapsody for Cello and Piano
Busoni: "Kultaselle", variations on a Finnish folksong
Brahms: Sonata for Cello and Piano No 1 in E Minor, Op. 38
Liszt: "Romance oubliée "
Liszt: "Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth"
Brahms: Sonata for Cello and Piano No 2 in E Minor, Op. 99
On Sunday afternoon, I temporarily left my digs on the Upper West Side to cross Central Park and venture into the foreign territory that is the Upper East Side. But I had a very good reason to do so, and that was a recital by Steven Isserlis and Kirill Gerstein at the 92Y. Moreover, after too many hours spent in front of the computer, nobody had to twist my arm to get out and even passingly enjoy the gorgeous weather in the park on my way to a couple of afternoon hours of elevated music by two distinguished musicians.
The zesty opening number was Bartok's transcription of his Rhapsody for Violin and Piano for cello and piano, which smartly combined the infectious folk tunes of the composer's native country and some more generally engaging melodies. The cello and piano immediately entered into a meaningful dialogue of harmonies and rhythms that ended up in some quite spectacular fireworks.
Busoni's Kultaselle has a lot going for it under a rather inconspicuous first impression. On Sunday, the fired-up duo treated us to a lively rendering of it as they let these 10 variations on a Finnish folksong develop and expand, keeping the listener in a constant state of alertness and delight.
Then came the first Sonata for Cello and Piano by Brahms, written when he was not even twenty years old but already unquestionably on his path to becoming a musical giant. The work has an endearing spontaneity and tentative maturity that were masterly reflected in the expert playing coming from the stage. Obviously not a masterpiece but definitely more than just a curiosity, this sonata offers an interesting early glimpse of the bigger and better things to come while still genuinely standing on its own merit.
It is hard to go wrong with Liszt, and the ethereal versions of "Romance oubliée" and "Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth" that started the second half of the program reminded us that the occasional moody composer also knew how to express delicate emotions like very few others. In the hands of Steven Isserlis and Kirill Gerstein, those exquisite little gems brought the celestial light of this beautiful winter afternoon right into the concert hall.
More than twenty years after his first sonata, Brahms, ever the ultimate perfectionist, finally published his second sonata. Having a much more solid grasp on the challenges of his craft, he made good use of his vast musical experience and friendship with German cellist Robert Hausmann to concoct an intense, all-encompassing work. A grand, fun way to conclude the program.
But the concert was actually not quite over yet as the two musicians came back for an encore which, if it did not surpass what had been played previously, came pretty darn close. Dedicated to a 92Y regular who had just passed away, Schubert's beautifully meditative "Nacht und Traüme" was as compelling and peaceful a good-bye as could have ever been.