The Monday Night Musicales program, which has a 15-year history of presenting young artists, this week featured Chilean cellist Eliana Mendoza and pianist Madeline Bloom at Strathmore Hall.
To open Mendoza chose the venerable Beethoven Cello Sonata in A, Op. 69, No. 3. Its broad opening sounded like a foghorn, the artist having difficulty managing dynamics in the small music room. The long lower-to-upper string transitions flowed smoothly, but the quicker transitions were choppy and came out lopsided -- too much treble or too much bass. Bloom and Mendoza established a good rapport in the Scherzo, but the repeated rhythmic patterns in the cello constituted an undifferentiated drone. Mendoza heavily interpreted the last two movements of the sonata, giving it rich pathos and a refreshing singularity.
Chopin's "Polonaise Brillante," Op. 3, clearly was not to the cellist's taste -- her persistently aggressive approach could hardly be considered "brillante." This polonaise is an ornate and somewhat exaggerated bit of romanticism in any event, but Mendoza pushed it to the border of vulgarity.
The contemporary repertory of the program's second half was much better suited to Mendoza's talent. Three Movements for Cello and Piano by Israeli pianist Ilan Rechtman, written for the cellist's upcoming Carnegie Hall debut, is exciting and vivid, recalling the music of Leornard Bernstein (to whom it is dedicated). Mendoza played the first movement with fire and flash, and she gave an extraordinary mournful sonority to the brooding middle section.
Ginastera's "Pampaeana No. 2," an invocation of gauchos living on the Argentine pampas, concluded the concert. A hot and highly colored rhapsody, it put Mendoza's capacity for high voltage to good use. Although more contouring of dynamics was needed, the varied cadences were briskly articulated by both pianist and cellist. The voraciously energetic ending heated the blood, bringing a welcome tropical epiphany to a cold February night.