Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Matt Haimovitz and Geoffrey Burleson

Matt Haimovitz brought his prodigious technique and unsparing advocacy of the modern cello repertoire to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville on Sunday night.

Haimovitz is known as a cello crusader who takes his 1710 Matteo Goffriller cello to nontraditional venues, such as clubs, playing works from Bach to jazz and Jimi Hendrix. But Sunday's venue was a standard one, with an older audience than Haimovitz typically seeks, leading him to say repeatedly, with hopeful enthusiasm, "You'll like this."

The easiest-to-like music was Beethoven's last Cello Sonata, Op. 102, No. 2. Though Haimovitz had a top-notch partner in pianist Geoffrey Burleson, the performance fell a bit short. The second movement, in particular, was more lugubrious than songful.

Elliot Carter's uncompromising 1948 Cello Sonata fared better, from its first-movement contrast of staccato piano and legato cello -- with the instruments moving gradually toward comity -- to its intense, epic finale.

Although Haimovitz's clean, precise sound lacks some warmth and grandeur, it fit David Sanford's "22 Part I" perfectly. This 1995 work opens with a piano cadenza, moves through alternating exclamatory and discursive passages, and ends with the strong rhythms and absent melody of funk.

It was Samuel Barber's 1932 Cello Sonata, though, that showed Haimovitz and Burleson at their best. Finally pulling richness form his lower register, Haimovitz was emotive and dramatic by turns, with Burleson's piquancy and poetry blending beautifully in a work whose mixture of modernism with neo-romantic gestures effectively bridged the gap between 19th and 20th centuries and between performers and audience.

-- Mark J. Estren

Sara Daneshpour

Sara Daneshpour, a 20-year-old Washington native, is carving out her place in the music world recital by recital. Last year, the student at Philadelphia's prestigious Curtis Institute placed second at the University of Maryland's William Kapell piano competition. Local engagements followed, including one on Sunday afternoon at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which revealed a musician of promising technique and ideas.

The first half embodied contrasts -- sound-wise and in the qualities of her playing. Beethoven's 32 Variations in C Minor was a vibrant and energetic tour through shifting textures. Alternating pounding and soft swells with a glistening tone was one thing, maintaining a narrative drive and connecting disparate material over longer stretches was another, as Chopin's Sonata No. 2 in B Minor demonstrated. Pathos infused the famous funeral dirge, yet several extended sequences emerged more repetitive than poetic, and the overly brisk tempo at the opening sapped depth and detail.

With Scriabin's Prelude and Nocturne for Left Hand, Op. 9, Daneshpour paid homage to her teacher, the venerable Leon Fleisher, who for decades suffered from a neurological condition that rendered his right hand unusable for performance. Daneshpour brought a richness and color that belied the work's limited scoring. The pianist used Rachmaninoff's "Variations on a Theme of Corelli," Op. 42, to draw forth a tremendous wash of sound. Two Prokofiev works were bookends of the second half. Daneshpour patiently unfolded "Sarcasms," Op. 17, while driving with gusto and poise in the concluding Toccata, Op.11.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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