Alban Gerhardt is a musical omnivore. The German cellist, who turns 50 this year, mastered many musical styles at a winning recital Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection with pianist Cecile Licad. Shifting gears from the all-modern programming he offered at the Library of Congress in 2016, this concert featured Gerhardt’s subtle side in baroque music and his most robust tone in sweeping romantic music.
Bach’s Solo Cello Suite No. 5 offered a tantalizing taste of Gerhardt’s recording of all six of the composer’s solo cello suites, to be released next month on the Hyperion label. The interpretation seemed influenced by historically informed performance, fleet of tempo and often detached in articulation. He produced a dark, chicory tone on the low strings of his 1710 Matteo Goffriller cello in the shadow-tinged Prelude. Spunky pacing in the moderate Allemande and spritely Courante led to an elegant Sarabande, capped off by angel-sweet pianissimo repeats.
An early Beethoven cello sonata (Op. 5, No. 2) was the least composed, likely due to some page-turning mishaps in the second movement that ruffled both performers. Licad brought intense virtuosity and a subtle variation of touch to the piece, taken at challenging tempos in the second and third movements. Gerhardt had some minor intonation issues here, mostly on long notes that wavered in and out of tune just slightly.
Rachmaninoff’s “Danse Orientale” is a heavily perfumed bonbon, trading heavily on augmented seconds and folk music-like cantillation. Gerhardt and Licad offered it as an introduction to the composer’s Cello Sonata in G Minor, which followed without a break for applause and opens in a similar vein. The most pleasing moments were rhapsodic and slathered with rubato, as in the schmaltzy second theme of the first movement and the soaring crescendos of the slow movement.
The frenetic Scherzo, pulsing with excitement, and bombastic finale made for an intense conclusion to this concert, rounded off by two encores: “Requiebros” by Gaspar Cassadó, to heat up the crowd, and the Largo movement from Chopin’s Cello Sonata, to cool it back down.