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MUSIC REVIEW

Cellist Wispelwey keeps the intensity up at Jordan Hall

Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello aside, the chamber repertoire for cello is not brimming with household names. It’s no surprise that Yo-Yo Ma has been in crossover mode for years now. Or that for his Celebrity Series recital at Jordan Hall Friday evening with pianist Paolo Giacometti, Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey raided the violin-and-piano repertoire for the better part of the duo’s engaging, high-strung performance.

Wispelwey treats his instrument like a business partner, showing much respect but little obvious affection. Brahms’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (Op. 78), originally for violin and piano, draws on the composer’s “Regenlied.’’ It can be a gentle autumn rain - that’s how Ma and Emanuel Ax perform it. Here it was a tale of whipping winds and storm clouds, the dotted rhythm brusquely accented, the noble second-movement theme tightly focused, D major emerging at the end only as a narrow shaft of sunlight. Giacometti was surprisingly recessive, though in the first movement’s development section he and Wispelwey had a nice game of tag.

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Schubert’s Fantasy for Cello and Piano D. 934 was also originally written for violin and piano. Giacometti asserted himself here, flitting about like a butterfly in the opening Andante molto while Wispelwey mused over an “Ave Maria’’-like melody. In the Allegretto, they engaged in a lively, Gypsy-like dance, trading ideas, and there was more hide-and-seek in the variations of the Andantino. The hymn of the closing Allegro vivace was exuberant but somehow not joyful.

George Crumb’s 1955 Sonata for Solo Cello begins in fragments, a spooky bowed melody being answered by deep plucked notes that might be the rattling of chains. The variations of the second movement suggest a distorted waltz; the toccata finale could be the deep song of prisoners getting ready to bust out. The piece exudes nervous energy, and that’s just what Wispelwey brought to it.

Stravinsky’s “Suite italienne’’ is an abbreviated version of his “Pulcinella’’ ballet; this was the version that the composer and Gregor Piatigorsky arranged for cello and piano. It got off to a disconcerting start, with Giacometti crisp and Wispelwey caressing, and the familiar theme was oddly unkinetic. Stravinsky’s sardonic wit also seemed in short supply, though Wispelwey did bring out the composer’s references to his earlier “Petrouchka’’ in the finale.

Both encores were likewise transcriptions. Fauré’s “Après un rêve’’ found Wispelwey in more relaxed vein, though not exactly dreamy. Chopin’s Opus 18 “Grande valse brillante’’ was enjoyable but no replacement for the piano original.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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