Israeli cellist Ofra Harnoy gave a good old-fashioned recital Saturday night at the Jewish Community Center. She followed a style of program-building -- playing light works and more substantial pieces side by side -- that was common earlier in this century but that fell out of favor, except with a few performers like Arthur Fiedler, during the past 50 years. "Encore pieces" played in the formal program included two works of David Popper, the Paganini of the cello; arrangements of two short piano pieces and an aria by Tchaikovsky; and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee." This music was its own justification in Harnoy's performance. I hope she will record Lensky's aria from "Eugene Onegin," to which she gave a sweetness of tone and emotional power that any tenor might envy.
This program worked well partly because of the valid and effective programming, but also because Harnoy is a first-class musician. At 25, she has complete control of her instrument and a wide-ranging repertoire, which on Saturday included the heavenly melodies of Schubert's "Arpeggione" Sonata and the intricacies of Brahms's Cello Sonata in E Minor, Op. 38. These are great works, and (despite a few pinched notes) she did them full justice, with a brilliant technique that allowed her to look nonchalant while tossing off Popper's "Dance of the Elves" and Hungarian Rhapsody at a pace that must have approached 500 notes per minute.
Harnoy's involvement in the music often comes across, visually, with an almost erotic intensity. Those who find this distracting can close their eyes (as she does) while she is playing or skip concerts and just listen to her numerous, excellent records. But for many in the audience, this intensity is a positive value, and they will welcome the news that RCA is working with her on video recordings.