Fulfilling a Prophecy, Youthful Mastery Blooms

29/04/2015

  Schumann, Webern, Poulenc, Bach, Boccherini, Bloch, and Tchaikovsky: Julian Schwarz (cello), Sara Daneshpour (piano), St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Wayne, Pennsylvania, 19.4.2015 (BJ)

Schumann: Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70
Webern: Two Pieces for Cello and Piano
Poulenc: Cello Sonata, Op. 143
Bach: Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007, for unaccompanied cello
Boccherini: Sonata No. 6 in A major, G. 4
Bloch: Suite From Jewish Life
Tchaikovsky: Pezzo capriccioso, Op. 62

 

It seems like just yesterday—such is the vividness of the memory—that, reviewing a performance of Haydn’s C-major Cello Concerto in Tacoma, Washington, for Seen and Heard, I declared that the 16-year-old soloist, Julian Schwarz, was “destined to rank among the major cellists of the 21st century.” Well, in fact eight years have passed, and Schwarz has made giant strides toward the realization of my prophecy.

Indeed, hearing him at this recital in Tri-County Concerts’ Emerging Artists series, he showed himself at 24 to be no longer emergent but comprehensively emerged. I do not think there can be many cellists before the public today who command a tone more superlatively rich, warm, and solid, yet at the same time capable of the utmost delicacy, than Schwarz projects—and projected on this occasion across a variety of repertoire indicative of a questing and firmly based musical intelligence.

The greatest work on the program, by almost any measure, was the first of Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello. Schwarz’s performance was equally impressive for the sovereign freedom of his bow arm, the nimble accuracy of his fingers, the nobility of his sound, and the eloquence of his phrasing. This was a romantic performance, but it has long been my view that every performance worth listening to, whether of the music commonly regarded as romantic, or of any music from the Renaissance onwards, must be romantic, in the sense that searching out the feeling behind the notes must be central to the performer’s aim.

It was only after hearing Schwarz’s magisterial Bach that I realized for the first time what an easy instrument the cello is to play. I jest—but that is the impression this phenomenal young cellist conveys. The rest of the program, in which he was supported by a comparably fine young pianist, was no less enjoyable. Sara Daneshpour commands a wide dynamic range, stretching from the most restrained of whispers to a wonderfully full fortissimo that was yet free of harshness, and it was clear that she shared fully in Schwarz’s conception of every piece he had chosen to play. Both players’ sound, incidentally, benefitted from the shifting of the piano from the floor of the church, where the instrument had sounded dead in an earlier concert, to the chancel, which opened up the acoustics no end and produced an entirely acceptable sonority and balance.

The Schumann work, originally conceived for horn, was no less effective on the cello (which, after all, plays a corresponding role among string instruments to that of the horn among the brass). It sounded admirably Schumannesque, whereas the two short pieces that followed it sounded no less admirably un-Webernesque, Webern having written them at the age of 15, some time before he set out on the path of extreme miniaturization that he was to follow in his mature output.

Poulenc is a composer often associated with a relatively light mode of expression, but his Cello Sonata proved to be a work of serious substance, justifying the high estimation of its quality revealed in Schwarz’s consistently sensitive and informative introductory remarks. After eloquent performances of a short Boccherini sonata and Bloch’s Suite From Jewish Life, a change from the previously announced program brought us a welcome rarity in the shape of Tchaikovsky’s high-spirited Pezzo capriccioso, which was brought off with stunning virtuosity. The final encore was an instrumental version of Fauré’s song Après un rêve that brought the afternoon to an appropriately magical conclusion.

Bernard Jacobson

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