Robinson plays the cello fearlessly


January 30, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The scherzo of Shostakovich's Cello Sonata is as fearsome as music for that instrument gets. Within the raucous, drunken, dance-of-death confines of this movement, the cellist must play a series of eerie harmonics in which the left hand moves up and down the fingerboard at something like the speed of light, while the bow arm must move just as quickly, hitting the treacherously positioned notes with just the right amount of pressure.

In her cello recital last night in Friedberg Hall, Sharon Robinson sounded as if she were not in the least intimidated by this passage. She made it slither and sing.

The rest of the sonata was equally impressive: a first movement that was insouciant, a soulful slow movement and a final one in which her playing spoke eloquently throughout, particularly at whisper-soft levels. Her partner, Sam Sanders, brought distinction to the piano part.

But Robinson's best playing might have come in Rebecca Clarke's Rhapsody for Cello and Piano. The English-born Clarke (1886-1979) is one of those composers who seems ripe for rediscovery. She was a gifted violist -- her sonata for that instrument tied for first place with Ernst Bloch's Viola Suite in the 1919 Coolidge Competition -- and her music is passionate, sophisticated and beautifully written for the string player.

Why it isn't better known is something of a mystery. But performances such as Robinson's -- lovely in tone and emotionally fearless -- cannot but help.

Marcello's Adagio and Beethoven's Variations on a Theme from "The Magic Flute" received fine performances -- the first songful, the second nimble.

Only Grieg's Sonata was disappointing. Robinson is a fine cellist, but she does not command the sonority necessary to bring off this piece, particularly in its stentorian opening and closing movements. Hearing Robinson essay such a piece was a little like listening to a lyric soprano attempt to sing Puccini's Turandot or Wagner's Isolde.

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