Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review: Pieter Wispelwey

April 17, Virginia Commonwealth University

Cellist Pieter Wispelwey spent a long day at VCU, headlining the university’s "Cellopalooza" day of workshops and demonstrations, capping that event with a late afternoon recital, then performing with his regular duo partner, pianist Paolo Giacometti, in a Rennolds Chamber Concerts program.

Wispelwey, a Dutch cellist known for his stylistic ambidexterity – a modern cellist who is equally expert as a historically informed period instrumentalist – and Giacometti devoted their evening recital to Beethoven’s sets of variations on "See the conq’ring hero comes" from Handel’s "Judas Maccabeus" and "Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen" and "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" from Mozart’s "The Magic Flute," Schubert’s "Argeggione" Sonata and Wispelwey’s arrangement of Schubert’s Fantasy in C major, D. 934.

The Beethoven sets, like his sonatas for cello and piano, do not cast the piano as a supporting instrument; it’s often the senior partner of the pair. The piano’s role in the two Schubert pieces is almost as prominent. Wispelwey gave Giacometti due deference in these performances, something a lot of prominent cello soloists aren’t quite willing to do. Giacometti was a winning co-star, drawing consistently lovely tone from the piano and showing a keen grasp of the lyrical and dance elements that pervade these works.

Wispelwey’s cello sang and danced, too, with the lyrical tone and narrative phrasing of a master Lieder singer and the rhythmic sensibility and dynamism of a musician who thoroughly understands the way that late-classical composers absorbed and enlarged on vernacular dance styles.

Wispelwey’s tone was leaner and more earthy than the big, round sound of the mainstream "international style," enabling him to negotiate fast fingerings with greater clarity and deliver accents with more impact. His treatment of Schubert’s singing lines in the allegretto of the sonata and the andantino of the fantasy voiced the music’s sentiment without reticence, but also without excess sentimentality.

His adaptation of the fantasy doesn’t really stand up to comparison with the original for violin and piano – the cello’s lower register and darker tone mask the brilliance of the string part; but the cellist reveled in the speedy figures of the final section.