For Cello and Piano, a Subtle and Explosive Recital

United StatesUnited States  Carter, Brahms, Fulmer, Stravinsky: Jay Campbell (cello), Conor Hanick (piano), SubCulture, New York City, 15.4.2015 (BH)

Elliott Carter: Elegy for Cello and Piano (1939/2007)
Brahms: Sonata No. 2 in F Major for Cello and Piano, Op. 99 (1886)
David Fulmer: Original Wood (2014/2015)
Stravinsky: Suite Italienne (1932)

The last time I heard cellist Jay Campbell and pianist Conor Hanick was at Weill Recital Hall in March 2014, in a striking concert with percussionist Mike Truesdell. (My review appeared in the June 2014 issue of The Strad.) Campbell is nothing if not original, and in just a few years has established himself as one of the city’s preeminent cellists, focusing largely—though not exclusively—on unusual corners of contemporary repertoire. (In 2012, he won First Prize in Concert Artists Guild’s Victor Elmaleh International Competition.) Hanick, one of the most quietly perceptive pianists around, has also made a name for himself in arresting—not to mention difficult—works that show an equally imaginative mind. Together, they can be both subtle and explosive.

In this well-balanced recital at SubCulture, mixing the old, the recent, and the new, the duo made me think I may be witnessing the birth of a classic team, one that will only become more intriguing, interpretively speaking, as time goes on. In Elliott Carter’s Elegy for Cello and Piano—Campbell described it as “an Apollo 13 soundtrack”—his soulful tone, coupled with Hanick’s pristine keyboard attacks, effectively captured the composer’s mellow ache.

If the balance in Brahms’s Sonata No. 2 slightly favored the piano, Campbell compensated with intuitive phrasing and tonal splendor. The third movement, Allegro passionato, was notable for its ferociously exact rhythms, and in the finale, Cambell found exciting contrast between legato and rougher bow strokes.

Original Wood is the third work that David Fulmer has written for the cellist, following last year’s Cantantes Metallis, and both works display a deft touch with a formidable array of techniques. There is something of the contemporary entertainer in Fulmer’s canvases (Campbell joked about the composer’s hyperactive energy level) and he seems ideally suited for these two artists. Contrasts abound—smooth/abrasive, speedy/idle—and coupled with a masterful cornucopia of harmonics and glissandi, the ending arrives, surprisingly delicate.

As in last year’s Weill program, the evening included an effervescent account of Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, derived from his Pulcinella, and transcribed for cello and piano by Gregor Piatigorsky. It would be hard not to be seduced by the ghostly pizzicatos in the Serenata, the blisteringly fast Tarantella (with both cello and piano still sharply articulated), and the elegant finale. With any justice, the suite will become one of this team’s signatures, and I count myself lucky to have heard them play it twice.

Bruce Hodges

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