By Edward Kliszus
Jay Campbell, cello, and Conor Hanick, piano, performed at the prestigious 92nd Street Y in New York. With a large contingency in attendance, the duo opened with Claude Debussy’s Cello Sonata (1915).
In the Debussy, the duo captured the work’s stunning display of the beauty and versatility of the cello. The Cello Sonata fits the impressionist period with its fluid, non-linear musical forms and harmonic language. With aplomb, Campbell aptly evoked the intended mood, atmosphere, and tonal structures. Hanick concurred musically as he played the magnificent concert grand piano with sublime facility.
Agility and Virtuosity
The first movement of the Debussy, “Prologue,” began with a haunting and lyrical cello melody showcasing the instrument’s rich and resonant tonal qualities. Campbell likewise demonstrated his mastery of creating delicate tones through harmonics. The second movement, “Sérénade,” was a fast-paced and playful waltz demonstrating the performers’ agility and virtuosity. Of note was the duo’s remarkable, precision musical interplay with pizzicato cello and staccato flourishes on the piano. The third and final movement, “Finale”, built to an explosive and thrilling apogee showcasing Campbell’s expressive, virtuosic range and finely crafted execution of dramatic glissandi passages. The duo honored Debussy’s quintessential example of innovative, impressionistic musical styles.
Here is a recording of the Cello Sonata performed by tonight’s duo:
Marcos Balter’s Kerning from Three Enigmas began with mysterious, avant-garde harmonies. Balter describes his work: “As in the realm of typography, kerning is the deliberate arrangement of a font’s characters, embracing asymmetry in pursuit of aesthetically gratifying outcomes…”
The duo performed intricate atonal passages that ebbed and flowed in a compelling, hypnotic soundscape. Sounds were presented in obscure rhythmic and melodic patterns, while the ultimate primary expressions were derived from timbre. The admixture of atonal clusters spaced apart on the piano and the variety of sounds performed by the cello were hypnotic. Campbell deftly utilized harmonics, sul ponticello (near the bridge), and sul tasto (near the end of the fingerboard) bowings. At times, as Campbell bowed horizontally, he created a circle as he glided between both bowing techniques. This plethora of sonic ideas was akin to the sonic musings of George Crumb in his Mikrokosmos, the harmonies in John Cage’s String Quartet, or the rhythmic obscurity and stringed effects heard in Yair Klartag’s Polychronization.
The duo masterfully executed the complex harmonies and textures to create an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere. These dream-like sonorities drew listeners into the music and held their attention from start to finish. Plaintive yearnings were achieved through ethereal sonic images. Campbell’s bowing was superb as he used harmonics and bowing techniques to express his part with the piano and its atonal bursts of color. Campbell’s significant use of quarter tones against the piano’s central pitches created an interplay of amazing overtones and sonic tremolo.
It was thrilling to see, hear, and experience Marcos Balter’s World Premiere, a new work entitled Reticulárea from Three Enigmas. Hailing from Brazil, Balter studied composition at the University of Chicago and is renowned for his innovative musical style and thought-provoking works. Balter describes his work: “Reticulárea delves into the exploration of gestural proximities, transforming them into versatile tools that empower the expansion of a singular organism in myriad directions…”
Frequent tone clusters, sonic growling, virtuoso cello passages, and extended ranges on the piano helped create what Balter described as the “dynamic interplay of motion and equilibrium.”
The duo demonstrated flawless technical prowess and creative flair, drawing listeners into Balter’s imaginative sonorities. Reticulárea left a lasting impression on everyone listening.
Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, FB143, is a beautiful chamber work in which the duo exemplified its neo-baroque and neo-classical styles expressions. It was composed and premiered in Paris in 1948.
Wit and Sentimentality
Listeners were mesmerized by the colorful lyrical melodies, lively rhythms, and inventive harmonies showcasing Poulenc’s unique combination of wit and sentimentality. The piece is composed of four movements: a moderate “Allegro,” a meditative “Cavatine,” a playful “Ballabile,” and a “Finale.”
In this final work of the program, Campbell soared while performing Poulenc’s melodies with rich, robust intensity and pathos. The cello and piano deftly exchanged prominent roles throughout the piece, highlighting the contrasting qualities of both instruments. Hanick’s piano work perfectly matched the flashes of percussive brilliance and beauty Poulenc intended.
Campbell and Hanick expressed the opening hymn-like phrases with sumptuous melodic intones. The duo performed the “Cavatine” in a way that ensured the expression of its glorious, rich melodies and chromaticism. The team captured the playful, virtuosic, and lilting melodies expressed in Poulenc’s fresh style in the second movement. Campbell’s masterful and dramatic use of arpeggios, glissandi, tremolo on harmonics, and double stops was stunning.
Here’s a recording of the Cavatine from the Poulenc Sonata performed by Henrik Dam Thomsen (cello) and Ulrich Stærk (piano)
The Delicate Balance Between the Two Instruments
This performance of the Poulenc was a reminder that the Sonata is a staple of the cello repertoire due to its beauty and technical and musical challenges. The duo expressed sumptuous colors revealed in the delicate balance between the two instruments, creating an expressive and cohesive whole.
Tonight’s performance by the marvelous duo of Jay Campbell, cellist, and Conor Hanick, pianist, was breathtaking. From the moment they began playing, the audience was transfixed. The music was beautifully interpreted, with both artists demonstrating a deep understanding of the pieces they were performing. Campbell’s playing could be delicate or robust, with soaring melodies that can touch a listener’s soul. Hanick provided a perfect piano partnership and accompaniment, adding depth, drama, and texture to the music. Together, they displayed a seamless rapport and bravura that added a profound artistic dimension to the performance. The audience was spellbound throughout and rewarded the duo with thunderous applause and standing ovations. Tonight was a fabulous performance by two gifted virtuosos of their instruments, which will be remembered by those present for years.
Claude Debussy, Cello Sonata in D Minor, L. 144
Marcos Balter, Kerning from Three Enigmas
Marcos Balter, New Work from Three Enigmas (world premiere; 92NY commission)
Francis Poulenc, Sonata for Cello and Piano, FP 143
Runtime: About 90 minutes without intermission.
The 92ND Street Y
92NY Center for Culture & Arts
Buttenwieser Hall at The Arnhold Center.
The 92nd Street Y, New York
1395 Lexington Avenue
(between 91st & 92nd street)
New York, NY 10128
For tickets and information on the 2023-34 Tisch Music Season, go to https://www.92ny.org/concerts
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