The partnership between the Israeli cellist Inbal Megiddo and the Israeli Arab pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar is a promising one.

On Thursday at the University of Maryland's Smith Center, the young musicians played works of Boccherini, Shostakovich, J.S. Bach, Part and de Falla, pairing intensity with an awareness of stylistic distinctions as keenly drawn between composers as within movements.

After lending a mellow luster to Boccherini's rather placid Sonata No. 6, Megiddo and Ashkar really got going in Shostakovich's Sonata, Op. 40. The piano's percussive hammer strokes met head on with the music's razor-sharp contrasts of high and low registers. Textures of empty desolation between these extremes of pitch reflected musically the vast reaches of the composer's homeland. Finely etched in performance, these bittersweet scenes peaked in the bite of the finale's contrapuntal parody.

Bach's Gamba Sonata in D was rendered with regal dignity and intimate grace, leading to the evening's high-water mark: the whispered fragility of Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel" -- so moving that listeners delayed applause. This celestial stillness, unfortunately, was soon dispelled by the earthy gusto of de Falla's "Suite Populaire Espagnole."

-- Cecelia Porter