Pianist Simon Trpceski (Lube Saveski)

I’d been looking forward to Thursday’s recital at the Library of Congress by cellist Daniel Müller-Schott and pianist Simon Trpceski. Both in their artistic prime, they enjoy full calendars of engagements at top venues and worldwide acclaim.The program was hardly original or even imaginative — standard sonatas by Beethoven (C major), Brahms (F major) and Chopin — but great playing can always illuminate familiar pieces. Unfortunately, the music was often opaque.

The blame goes foremost to Trpceski. He played as though he was doing a Rachmaninoff concerto against a full orchestra, striking some chords so forcefully that he lifted partially off his bench. Vast swaths of cello music were simply obliterated, a video with no sound. Balancing against a cello is difficult, especially in these sonatas with such heavy keyboard parts, but there’s little excuse for a musician of Trpceski’s caliber.His inexperience in this repertoire was also hinted at in the stray wrong notes (which I’ve never heard from him in his solo performances) and in misread rhythms in the Brahms slow movement.

From what I could hear of Müller-Schott, he is a cellist with both passion and refinement. My sense is that he is now hard-wired to playing with orchestras in large halls. He changes bows liberally and kind of “saves up” his vibrato for the more important or exposed notes (making musical lines lumpy and arbitrary sounding).This, sadly, was probably the best strategy given the deafening playing behind him, but the music was shortchanged phrase after phrase.

Further, he seemed indifferent to basic matters of syntax. The two repeated notes in the opening of the Beethoven are immediately answered in the piano; why would he play his so smoothly as to sound like one note, making a hash out of the back-and-forth? I might also carp about the absence of any sustained sense of tempo; the artists seemed to feel that slowing down for every soupy passage made the music clearer instead of the opposite.

These are two likable, vital musicians, bursting with ardor and virtuosity. Rarely, though, has the sum been so much less than the parts.

Battey is a freelance writer.