At NGA, Hoerr and Sigfridsson have difficulty finding clarity

June 10, 2013

The German cellist Peter Hoerr has no lack of subtle, interesting ideas, but he had two big hurdles to overcome at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday night. One was the notorious acoustics of the West Garden Court, which tend to swamp gentler-voiced instruments in a sea of reverberation. The other was the cellist’s partner for the evening, the Finnish pianist Henri Sigfridsson — whose driving, full-speed-ahead approach often seemed to leave the more introspective Hoerr hanging on for dear life.

It made, at times, for a disconcerting evening. Listening to two players as accomplished as these should be one of music’s great pleasures — a dialogue between distinctive, finely tuned musical minds that brings out the best in both. And the program — a classical-era mix of Beethoven, Mozart and Jean-Louis Duport — was varied enough to let the two cut loose and just play.

But from the opening notes of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in F, Op. 5, No. 1, Hoerr and Sigfridsson seemed not to be quite on the same page. As the cellist unhurriedly explored the introduction, letting the music blossom and gently gather steam, Sigfridsson seemed eager to shift the work into high gear. Loud, fast and determined, the pianist steamrolled over the cellist’s quiet phrasing, and as Hoerr fought to hold his own, his tone became rougher and strident — a pattern that continued for much of the evening.

That said, there was no lack of excitement in the playing. The program, which included Beethoven’s “Twelve Variations” in F Major, Op. 66, Mozart’s “Nine Variations on a Minuet,” K. 573 and Duport’s rarely heard “Nocturne” in B-flat, gave both players room to display their virtuosity, and the climax came with Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in A Major, Op. 69 — a ravishing work, which received a strong and heartfelt performance. But to these ears, it was the encore — one of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” — that showed Hoerr and Sigfridsson at their best, so in tune with each other that, for the first time all evening, they seemed to be playing as one.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

Finnish pianist Henri Sigfridsson and German cellist Peter Hoerr performed together at the National Gallery of Art. (Marco Borggreve)
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