A Superb Recital from Alisa Weilerstein and Inon Barnatan


Beethoven, Barber, Britten: Alisa Weilerstein (cello), Inon Barnatan (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 7.3.2017. (RB)

Beethoven – Cello Sonata in C Op.102 No.1; Cello Sonata in D Op.102 No.2
Barber – Cello Sonata Op.6
Britten – Cello Sonata in C Op.65

Alisa Weilerstein and Inon Barnatan both seem to be forging impressive international careers as concert soloists.  It was good to see the two of them back in the Wigmore Hall in this programme of late Beethoven interspersed with 20th century masterworks.

The programme opened with the first of Beethoven’s late cello sonatas which was written in 1815 for the cellist, Joseph Linke.  This work, together with its companion piece in D major, marks the start of Beethoven’s third creative period.  Weilerstein and Barnatan opened in a simple and unaffected way and there was pleasing sense of Classical elegance and equipoise between the two players.  This was in sharp contrast to the ensuing Allegro vivace which was powerful and dramatic and coursed with rhythmic energy.  There was a muscularity and robustness about the playing which I really enjoyed and it was good to see both players paying such close attention to Beethoven’s dynamic markings.  In the second movement the slow introduction had an improvisatory quality and the playing sounded completely fresh and spontaneous.  The second Allegro vivace was full of cheeky Haydnesque wit and mischievous fun and it was delightfully characterised by both players.  The exchanges were tightly coordinated and Barnatan’s handling of Beethoven’s scampering passagework was exceptionally fine.

Barber’s Cello Sonata was written in 1932 when the composer was still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music.  The work is in three movements and the second movement combines an Adagio with a scherzo.  Weilerstein produced a richer, fuller sound than we had heard hitherto in the opening Allegro ma non troppo and the movement had a restless, sometimes explosive energy.  The lyrical second subject became a heartfelt song which Weilerstein invested with a wonderful sense of yearning.  The second movement produced some of the best playing of the entire concert.  Weilerstein’s highly expressive handling of the song-like Adagio was gorgeous and I loved the way in which she allowed the sound to open up towards the end of the movement, creating a sense of rapture.  The elfin, quicksilver exchanges between the two players in the central scherzo were superb.  There was some highly tempestuous playing from Barnatan in the finale and the movement as a whole had a brutal, uncompromising quality which is what this music requires.  I was not entirely convinced that the two players successfully synthesised all the disparate elements in this movement but there was some very fine and highly virtuosic playing nonetheless.

The second half opened with Beethoven’s D major Cello Sonata in which the composer continued to push the boundaries of conventional musical language.  In the programme notes Gerald Larner made the interesting point that Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms all appeared reluctant to include full slow movements in their cello sonatas.  The D major Sonata is one of only two by these three composers with a true slow movement.  Weilerstein and Barnatan gave a brisk and businesslike account of the opening Allegro con brio and I enjoyed the zest they brought to the music and the spirited nature of the exchanges.  Weilerstein brought an eloquence and nobility to the sombre melody which opened the Adagio slow movement.  The ensuing exchanges and Barnatan’s perfectly weighted chords captured the depth of the music without sacrificing any of the lyricism.  The transition to A major was magical and Barnatan allowed the song-like melody to blossom beautifully while Weilerstein provided a perfectly blended counterpoint.  The last movement is one of the first of Beethoven’s late fugal finales and it received a glorious performance here.  Both performers worked as one to ensure the lines were clearly delineated and the fugue was full of dramatic incident as the performers moved from the dance-like opening to increasingly remote keys and knotty discords.

The final work on the programme was Britten’s Cello Sonata in C which the composer wrote for the redoubtable Mstislav Rostropovich.  Britten first met Slava at the Royal Festival Hall in September 1960 when the latter was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto.  Rostropovich pleaded with Britten to write a new work for him and the composer duly obliged with this five movement sonata.  The opening movement, entitled Dialogo, is a somewhat fragmented piece in which tiny phrases are passed between the performers.  Weilerstein and Barnatan produced a tightly coordinated performance and captured the distinctive English character of the piece.  The scherzo – a study in pizzicato inspired by Bartók – produced light nimble interplay between the two performers and some exceptionally fine soft playing.  Weilerstein brought a rapt intensity to the central Elegia and the build-up throughout the movement was well calibrated.  The spirit of Shostakovich hovers over the Marcia fourth movement and Barnatan responded with a parade of grotesque effects while Weilerstein produced disturbing shrieks in higher tessitura.  The Moto Perpetuo finale was dispatched with virtuoso aplomb and both performers raced to the finish where climactic double octaves brought the work to a thrilling conclusion.

Superb playing once again from Weilerstein and Barnatan.  The audience responded with rapturous applause and the duo returned to the stage one final time to perform the slow movement from Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata as an encore.

Robert Beattie                

Print Friendly


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! 2017 BBC Proms from Friday 14 July – Saturday 9 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich Announces Details of New Season 2017/2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2017 Season in its New Opera House __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House Announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! In 2017 The Three Choirs Festival is from 22 to 29 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Glyndebourne Festival 2017: At Glyndebourne, At the Cinema and On Tour __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2017 features Salieri’s The School of Jealousy __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces Seventh Festival of Song for April __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera Announces its 2017/2018 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Autumn/Winter Season __________________________________
  • NEW! General Booking is Now Open for Longborough Festival Opera 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! 2017 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at London’s Southbank Centre in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! IN MEMORIAM LOUIS FRÉMAUX (1921-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Robert Farr reports on the 26th Annual Singing Competition Final – Elizabeth Harwood Memorial Award for Singers __________________________________
  • UPDATED IN MEMORIAM NICOLAI GEDDA (1925-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Reviews of Opera in Mumbai: A Gala and La Bohème Revisited __________________________________
  • NEW! FIVE YOUNG SINGERS JOIN THE JETTE PARKER YOUNG ARTISTS FOR 2017 __________________________________
  • NEW! REVIEWERS OF SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL PICK THEIR BEST OF 2016 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Mastersingers Celebrate Wagner Past and Present with the Rehearsal Orchestra __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H