Nils Oliver bit off a little more than he could chew when he selected the program for his recital at the Phillips Collection yesterday.
The young cellist, who stands 6-feet-8 in his stocking feet and towered above his accompanist, Jean Barr, even when he was seated, was the 1976 winner of the Friday Morning Music Club's International Competition for lower strings. He studied at the Manhattan School with Bernard Greehouse and, apparently, has made somewhat of a career of entering competitions.
Four masterpieces constituted his program yesterday: The Stravinsky "Suite Italienne," the Bach C Major Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, Schubert's A Minor Sonata (The Arpeggione) and, finally, the great Brahms E Minor Sonata Opus 38.
Every one of these is a challenge to the finest performing artists in the business. Each requires a solid and complete technique just as a starting point - as the vehicle for the real music-making that comes with imagination and insight.
Oliver seems still to struggling with technique. He is in the process of becoming an artist. His tone held moments of richness and beauty but was not to be relied upon, particularly at phrase ends, wide skips and fast passages. His intonation did not have the centered accuracy essential for satisfactory performance, and while there were movements that displayed a considerable sense of style, notably the Bourees of the Bach and the Brahms allegretto movement, much of the playing had a rather uninspired, dutiful, unloving feeling about it.
Pianist Barr played nicely but kept herself in the background more thoroughly than was desirable.