The headliner at Sunday’s recital at the Phillips Collection was British cellist Jamie Walton, but as the concert went on, he became almost an afterthought. Walton programmed four piano-heavy duos and handed the keys to Irish pianist Finghin Collins, who is not his regular partner.
Collins has an impressive solo resume, with recordings and concerto appearances on several continents. A fluent, powerful pianist, he paid not the slightest attention to balances with the cello. With the piano’s lid fully raised, he played as though against a full orchestra. By the end of the Rachmaninoff Sonata, my ears ached; I can only imagine what Walton was feeling — though the repertoire was his choice.
This was a shame, because from what I could hear, Walton is a major cello talent. He sports a particularly strong left hand — dead-center intonation and a wonderful, lithe vibrato that’s alive in every register. Though relatively young, he plays with the dignity and reserve of a well-seasoned artist. I am particularly drawn to young artists who keep their bodies and faces still while producing music full of expression and imagination; too often it’s exactly the opposite. Walton could possibly have allowed himself a little more time on some shifts. Cleanliness is next to godliness, but the cello can still vocalize a little.
And though Walton’s bow arm is efficient and strong, he was a little clunky on the rapid string crossings in the Rondo of the Beethoven Sonata in G Minor and the opening movement of the Britten Sonata. His jete stroke in the Britten’s last movement and the Scherzo of the Rachmaninoff was also problematic.
But mainly, Walton was hobbled by having to play as loudly as he could for much of the afternoon (often futilely). This restricted him to a limited bandwidth of tone color and made it impossible to fully appreciate what this very promising artist can do. I hope that we get another chance soon — and that he chooses more carefully.