Rosen offers free treatment in an intense performance

March 27, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky always exhibited a virtuosic flair that never eschewed exquisite taste. That quality also characterizes the playing of his student Nathaniel Rosen, who gave the first Piatigorsky Memorial Concert in the Shriver Hall Concert Series back in 1978 and who returned last night to give the 17th in what has become an important annual event.

Piatigorsky was as distinguished a teacher as he was a performer, and like most great pedagogues he did not turn out carbon copies of himself. It is hard to imagine the Russian, who invariably exuded sheer joy in the act of playing the cello, performing Bach's Suite No. 2 in D Minor for unaccompanied cello as Rosen did. While the cellist treated the music quite freely, it was not in a manner that could be called Romantic.

Rosen's performance is as intense and inward-looking as the music itself. While the fourth-movement saraband had plenty of feeling, for example, the cellist made it emerge as the stately dance its name declares it to be.

Nonetheless, the cellist's performance was filled with quasi-vocal inflections that reminded one of the great cellists of a previous generation -- such as bow changes in the meditative opening prelude that, without interrupting the music's flow, created what sounded like ejaculations of faith. Rosen is not a musician who is interested in technical perfection -- he was willing to make a minor sacrifice in intonation to emphasize the drama at the beginning of the courante. But, for the most part, his playing combined unassailable cleanness of attack and beauty of tone with unshakable conviction.

Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme -- performed with pianist Doris Stevenson -- was played with jaunty elegance and taste, lyrical intensity and, in the concluding fireworks, dazzling effortlessness. The color that Stevenson brought to her responsive and quietly brilliant playing was such that one did not miss the orchestral framework in which the work is usually heard.

In the first half of the program, the duo performed Hindemith's 1948 Sonata, which the composer wrote for Piatigorsky, with flair and panache -- qualities that Rosen and Stevenson also displayed in Hugo Riemann's 19th-century reworking of what was once presumably a baroque Sonata by Giuseppe Valentini.

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