Kates' cello recital showcases Beethoven's Sonata in D

November 23, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Stephen Kates' cello recital last night in the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore series at the Baltimore Museum of Art was at its considerable best in Beethoven's Sonata in D (opus 102, No. 2). Kates' big, forceful style made this late work speak eloquently in a heroic and romantic manner.

This sonata has a remarkable slow movement that is perhaps the first of the composer's successful late-period attempts to express a mood of thanksgiving in which time seems to stand still. Kates made this music sound hymn-like: His approach to sound -- his tone ranged from a whisper to a full-blooded fortissimo -- and the naturalness of his rhythm were almost like that of a singer. To the rest of the work, Kates and his fine pianist, Russell Miller, brought an appropriately noble muscularity.

A performance of the Debussy Sonata could not have been more different than the classically elegant one that the German cellist, Alban Gerhardt, gave a few weeks back. Kates played this work on an enormous scale, missing the clarity and refinement that his younger colleague brought to it. But if this was idiosyncratic playing, it nevertheless made for a fascinating performance. The cellist made the blues-influenced first movement sound almost like Gershwin.

The cellist also played Elliot Carter's Sonata. This 1948 work, long a favorite of American cellists, sounded -- compared to either the Beethoven or Debussy works -- strangely dated. But Kates made a strong case for the piece, making its second movement scherzo a tour de force of virtuosity and finding (at moments) in its slow movement almost Beethoven-like spiritual intensity.

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