Alisa Weilerstein has a silent movie star’s eyes; watching them, one could have followed the dramatic ebb and flow of the cellist’s Friday Celebrity Series recital at Jordan Hall, even without hearing it. The accomplished sounds made by Weilerstein and her thoroughly sympathetic partner, pianist Inon Barnatan, only intensified the effect. Their interpretations were like a series of marvelously expressive close-ups: every note and phrase pinned to an exact emotion, every emotion saturating the frame.
Their version of Ludwig van Beethoven (and his D major Cello Sonata, Op. 102, No. 2) was in constant thrall to the moment, a passionate intellect racing from idea to idea. The performers’ skill at edge-of-hearing softness — the Adagio was a high-wire act of breathless suspension — played off sharper forms of razzle-dazzle. The fugal finale was an expert chase scene, albeit one in which the driving was so confidently precise as to remove at least some sense of danger and abandon.
A true F/X showcase followed: Franz Schubert’s Fantasie in C
(D. 934), lightly arranged by Weilerstein and Barnatan from the violin-and-piano original. The script’s appeal is obvious: Schubert at his most expansively extroverted, equal parts grand melodies and tricky exploits. It was an interesting remake, the violin’s quicksilver virtuosity becoming, on the cello, much more muscular and physical. Weilerstein’s surmounting of the difficulties became the prime focus — the extradiegetic thrill of an actress doing all her own stunts.
“DreamLog,” by Philadelphia-based composer Joseph Hallman, is a modular piece, 11 movements from which performers may pick and choose. Weilerstein and Barnatan opted for four atmospheric sketches, almost filmlike in their centering on mood (including one explicit cinematic reference: “An Arctic Moment, Post-Massacre, à la ‘The Thing,’ ” the performers adding miked breathing effects to a collection of appropriately icy chords). The music is, perhaps by design, fleeting, with a penchant for condensing clouds of dissonance into fragments of old-fashioned lyricism. Each movement of “DreamLog” was almost like an empty set, waiting for actors.
Just the opposite was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Op. 19 G minor Cello Sonata, providing juicy roles for both cellist and pianist: dashing action, magnified poignancy, biting rage, the chance to display an exotic (Russian) accent, and one show-stopping scene after another. It was ideal for the duo’s big sound and big style — a technicolor wide-screen epic, complete with a generous post-credits sequence (Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” a silvery encore). Like the rest of the concert, it filled the screen.
Alisa Weilerstein, cello;
Inon Barnatan, piano
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston
At: Jordan Hall, Friday