Queyras and Melnikov Ideally Matched in Talent

United StatesUnited States Schumann, Beethoven, Webern, Rachmaninoff: Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Alexander Melnikov (piano), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 27.1.2017. (BJ)

SchumannFünf Stücke im Volkston

Beethoven – Cello Sonata in A major, Op.69

Webern – Drei kleine Stücke

Rachmaninoff – Cello Sonata in G minor, Op.19

This was one of those happy occasions when the two participants in a sonata recital were ideally matched and mutually supportive in talent. I had already had the opportunity to admire Jean-Guihen Queyras’s playing in performances of Haydn’s C-major Cello Concerto and Alexander Melnikov’s in a sparkling account of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto, and this Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital offered the pleasure of hearing them play together to delightful effect.

Last time around, I described Queyras’s rhythm as lithe and his tone as light rather than sumptuous. It could be expected, then, that he would be well suited to the Beethoven and Webern works on the program, but he succeeded equally impressively in filling out his sound in the more romantic context of Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style and the sonata that is surely the finest among Rachmaninoff’s handful of contributions to the chamber music repertoire.

What again impressed me most about Melnikov, besides his command of a resonant yet never harsh fortissimo and of crystalline passage-work at the top of the keyboard, was his ability to make an ordinary mezzo-forte in the middle register shine with beguiling fullness and warmth – a much rarer gift among pianists.

The musicians were perhaps taking a chance in proceeding without a pause from Webern’s diminutive Three Little Pieces, which in total last only about two minutes, to the broad expanses of Rachmaninoff’s sonata: I found myself mischievously wondering, about halfway through the latter, how many members of the audience who had not read Jay Goodwin’s excellent program note might be imagining that they were still listening to Webern. Perhaps rather less mischievously, the question might be asked whether there is much point in programming for an American audience a work as exiguous in texture and prevailingly hushed in dynamics as Webern’s Opus 11: even PCMS’s experienced and generally well disciplined public contained enough individuals to damage with their unrestrained coughing the already minor rewards provided by these three fairly jejune mini-moments musicaux.

Never mind: it was the generous rewards provided by these two superb musicians that stayed in the mind when the evening’s performance had ended.

Bernard Jacobson

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