Playing well with each other

  • Article by: WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2013 - 5:02 PM

In her Schubert Club recital debut, cellist Alisa Weilerstein's passion and prowess was matched by pianist Inon Barnatan.

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Alisa Weilerstein

At barely 30, American cellist Alisa Weilerstein is just emerging onto the international scene. Her Schubert Club International Artist Series recital Tuesday night at Ordway Center in St. Paul made it clear why she already has been the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant.

Weilerstein is as much a joy to watch as to listen to. She is a visceral performer, playing with her whole body, her heart in every note.

Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan, who played from a score on his iPad, was less an accompanist than a partner. From the opening work, Beethoven's Sonata No. 5 in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2, they were in deep communication, watching and enjoying each other's performance, seeming to read each other's thoughts.

They played the Beethoven with restrained passion, making it all the more deeply felt as a result. They were marvels of technical prowess, but always in service of communicating the emotion.

The Rachmaninoff Sonata for Piano and Cello in G Minor, Op. 19, was anything but restrained. This major Romantic showpiece gives both performers a workout. As the title suggests, the piano has much more of a starring role, and Barnatan made the most of it, especially with the solo cadenza in the first movement.

Weilerstein used the virtuosic challenges to convey a dark, Russian intensity, especially in the extended, dramatic finale.

By contrast, Stravinsky's "Suite italienne" is a sprightly work, derived from his ballet "Pulcinella," itself an adaptation of melodies from the 18th century. Unlike the rest of the program, Weilerstein played with an overly dry tone, sacrificing warmth in favor of a harsher, more modern sound.

This was in great contrast with Barnatan's rich, reverent piano. It was the one point in the evening when the two seemed out of sync.

At 22, Samuel Barber was a much more adventurous composer than he would later become. His Sonata in C Minor, Op. 6, plays with tonality, using traditional chord progressions in unique and individual ways, as in the dazzling, quirky Presto embedded in a lushly melodic Adagio.

Both Weilerstein and Barnatan threw themselves into the work, making a strong case for it.

It is always a pleasure to hear Weilerstein, but the evening whetted my appetite to hear Barnatan in a solo recital.

William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.

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