Baltacigil Soars On Wings of Faure

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2006

The best playing in Efe Baltacigil's cello recital Tuesday evening at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater came in his dazzling rendition of Gabriel Faure's "Papillon" (Op. 77).

The most difficult pieces to play are just those that can never sound difficult. "Papillon" (French for butterfly) is one of them -- a buzzing, airy composition that flitters about in perpetual motion, barely lighting on a note before moving on to the next. Baltacigil's performance could not have been much bettered: His passagework was seamlessly graceful and he never tried to make more of the music than was there.

Baltacigil is the associate principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He garnered considerable praise last year when a snowstorm prevented most of his colleagues from showing up at a concert, and he joined pianist Emanuel Ax in an impromptu performance of Beethoven's Cello Sonata No. 1 in F (Op. 5, No. 1) after only a few minutes of rehearsal.

As it happened, the same sonata began Tuesday's program and received a solid, if somewhat uneven, rendition by Baltacigil and his pianist, Anna Polonsky. Not to sow discord in what is apparently an established collaboration, but Polonsky's playing was much more lively, assertive and all-around interesting than Baltacigil's in this particular piece. She simply ran away with it, and it was all he could do to try to keep up, with sounds that were mostly loud and gray.

A performance of Chopin's Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano (Op. 65) was more equally balanced. Setting aside a few of the songs, some rather daffy early music for flute and the two concertos, this is Chopin's only music for an instrument other than piano that has entered the repertory. Still, as in the cello sonata of another great composer-pianist, Serge Rachmaninoff, the piano part is at least as difficult as the music written for cello. The performance was thoughtful and proportionate. Polonsky was much more subdued than she was in the Beethoven, and Baltacigil was able to sing out soulfully in the Largo movement (which, however, sounds like a less-inspired rewrite of the central melody in Chopin's famous Funeral March).

A young American composer, Benjamin C.S. Boyle (born in 1979), created his Sonata for Cello and Piano especially for Baltacigil. This proved a succinct, attractive work in three movements, conventional in utterance, deftly crafted for the two instruments and rather Shostakovichian in its harmonic language. The composer's own program notes may have overreached, however, with their references to Debussy and Schumann, to Boyle's having pushed "into new territory" and coming up with "a form different from any other sonata."

Bosh. This is modest, likable music from a promising composer, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm glad Boyle is pleased with what he has written, but "new territory" may take a little more time.

The concert was presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society, in conjunction with Young Concert Artists.

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