Narek Hakhnazaryan plays cello beautifully but needs to push himself

Washington is fortunate to get regular visits from Armenian cello phenom Narek Hakhnazaryan, whose gold medal at last year’s Tchaikovsky Competition added to a bulging trophy case. He has appeared here at least five times in recent seasons, and his recital on Saturday afternoon at the Library of Congress drew a vociferously appreciative audience.

Hakhnazaryan’s gifts on the instrument are manifest; his sound can turn from orotund power to a gossamer whisper in an instant, and he undertakes risky (but more expressive) fingerings with complete security. His intonation is mostly excellent, although it can drift when he plays fortissimo. His facility and clarity with the instrument are astonishing, and he attends carefully to the connections between notes, creating singing lines of satisfying logic.

In short, Hakhnazaryan is a complete cellist. Is he a complete musician? Only 24, one would expect and hope for growth. This should begin with his repertoire; of the six works on the program, only one was by a composer who wasn’t born between 1810 and 1840 — and, if memory serves, past programs here were similar. This will not do for much longer. He is at the level where he’ll be compared with Weilerstein, Capucon and Gerhardt; offering Armenian folk-song arrangements as encores does not count as “range.”

As an interpretive artist, Hakhnazaryan is a work in progress; a year ago, he was a student at the New England Conservatory, and it might take time to develop his personal voice. It’s fine to be transported by the music, as his performing demeanor often indicates, but top-level artists do more than react to the music — they re-create it and say something fresh and individual through it. There is nothing standing in this young virtuoso’s way; with further experience and mentoring (life and musical), more chamber music and taking time to reflect about what he has to say, the sky’s the limit.

Battey is a freelance writer.

In short, Hakhnazaryan is a complete cellist. Is he a complete musician? Only 24, one would expect and hope for growth. (Christian Steiner/Young Concert Artists)

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