Pieter Wispelwey’s visits to the Washington area are always worth hearing, and his recital Wednesday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center was no exception. The Dutch cellist, who switches easily between historically informed performance practice and the modern instrument, offered one of his gold-standard programs, this time focused on four major works from the years of the two world wars.
There was none of the barbed, bellicose pummeling you might expect from that era, though, as Wispelwey brought together serene and light-filled works that belied the time of their creation. Prokofiev’s late Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119, is an unexpectedly sweet work; the reverie-laden recitative sections of the first movement were given poignant vocal qualities by Wispelwey and followed by a comic serenade and a playful finale. The other Russian work, Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne,” an arrangement of music from his ballet “Pulcinella,” benefited from Wispelwey’s expertise in baroque music. He infused it with a sense of dance.