Cellist, pianist form thoughtful alliance

May 09, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

That the cellist Carter Brey and the pianist Christopher O'Riley enjoy playing chamber music together was much in evidence at their recital Saturday night at Howard Community College in the Candlelight Concert Society Series. Although each man enjoys a busy solo career, their interpretations displayed a good deal of thought and care.

The program got off to a less than ideal start with Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne," a transcription from "Pul- cinella" that the composer made for cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and that is more often heard in Samuel Dushkin's arrangement for violin and piano. There was nothing wrong with the Brey-O'Riley performance so much as there were things missing that one would have liked to hear. There simply wasn't enough refinement in the performance to bring the elegant surfaces of this brittle, polished music fully to life. O'Riley's vigorous playing and Brey's capacity for intense concentration (and tendency toward occasional lapses in intonation) made what should have been a jeux d'esprit seem overlong.

The same qualities, however, produced a remarkable performance of Shostakovich's great 1934 Cello Sonata. Here, cellist and pianist were able to bring the first movement to its fervid climax, play the scherzo with bite and eloquence, capture the tragic intensity of the slow movement and the high-spirited, cartoon-like exaggerations of the finale with panache. There were many beautiful moments -- not the least of which was the way O'Riley ended the first movement, descending ever lower into his instrument's range and producing ever darker colors. He is a remarkable pianist who somewhat resembles the actor Christopher Reeve and whose playing, which has no technical limitations, sometimes seems like that of Superman.

But the performance, beautiful as it was in most respects, raised some questions that have always troubled this listener about Brey. His imagination sometimes exceeds his technical capacities.

The glissando harmonics in the scherzo of the Shostakovich, for example, should blow the listener away with their insouciant brilliance. But when Brey played them, they were slightly out of tune and labored enough to make one aware of how difficult they are.

His handling of the slow movement also proved slightly disturbing. He played it more slowly than Rostropovich does on his recording with the composer himself -- indeed he played it more slowly than just about any cellist who programs it. The slow movement must be slow -- it is marked "largo" -- and it is the work's emotional center of gravity. But Brey's unusually slow tempo made it nearly impossible for him to maintain intonation and to sustain his tone in the way a singer must support his voice. A marginally faster tempo would have solved these

problems without diminishing the cellist's admirably searching intensity.

There are no qualifications attached to the second half of the program, which featured a high-spirited performance of Schumann's "Adagio and Allegro" and Brahms' G Major Violin Sonata in an arrangement that transposed it to the key of D for the cello. The name of the arranger was not mentioned in the program -- was it Starker's arrangement or was it by Brey himself? -- but the performance itself was so warm and spontaneous that one was never aware that one was hearing the music on the "wrong" instrument.

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