Cellist soars, despite an injured hand

November 01, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

When Alban Gerhardt walked on stage yesterday afternoon in LeClerc Auditorium at the College of Notre Dame, his left hand was bandaged from the wrist almost to the fingertips. It was not an auspicious beginning for a cello recital.

That Gerhardt could play at all -- he had injured himself in a biking accident early last month and had only begun playing again a few days ago -- was unusual. That he was able to play so beautifully seemed little less than a miracle.

In his program choices, the young German-born musician -- who has won several important international contests, including first prize in last summer's Leonard Rose Competition at the University of Maryland in College Park -- had scarcely set himself a simple task: four of the greatest masterpieces in the repertory, one of which (the Kodaly solo sonata) ranks among the most difficult works ever written for the cello.

From the beginning of the opening work, Beethoven's Sonata in A (opus 69), it was clear that major talent was at work. Gerhardt has a beautiful tone that ranges from a full-throated fortissimo to the merest whisper of a pianissimo. And -- except for those occasions when his bandages unraveled -- it was easy to forget about his left hand, which flew freely up and down the fingerboard of the instrument. While there's no doubt than an uninjured Gerhardt could have played even better, there were less than a handful of lapses in intonation.

One could have quibbled with a few points in the interpretation of Gerhardt and his collaborator, the fine Belgian pianist Norberto Cappone -- some mannered dynamics by the pianist in the work's scherzo and an uncharacteristically unsmiling reading the cellist of the exuberant finale. But there was no arguing with playing of such unfailing concentration and intensity.

The astonishing Kodaly Sonata was played astonishingly well. What a cellist must do in this piece is nothing less than convince an audience that his instrument is equal to an orchestra. With his sense of color, his wide variety of bow strokes and his unflagging energy, Gerhardt was able to do all this. It was also a most authentic-sounding performance, flavored as it was with a healthy helping of paprika.

After intermission, cellist and pianist gave a subtle and ethereal account of the Debussy D Minor Sonata -- there was some particularly haunting playing by Gerhardt in the middle movement -- and concluded the recital with a splendidly nostalgic and passionate reading of the Brahms E Minor Sonata.

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