A long-lasting collaboration between two soloists who have their own successful individual careers is not something encountered very often. Many of today’s great instrumental soloists like to involve new partners in their chamber music excursions as much as they work with different conductors and orchestras. Cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan have been playing together for many years and their exceptional understanding of each other’s intentions was abundantly clear in the video stream offered under the auspices of New York’s “92nd Street Y”.

Alisa Weilerstein
© Decca | Harald Hoffmann

The first work on the programme was Manuel de Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole, one of the multiple adaptations of the composer’s Siete canciones populares españolas, originally conceived for soprano and piano. The six out of seven songs included in the suite are representative of various Spanish traditional regions and are extremely diverse in character and style. The two interpreters made sure to underline the range of rhythms and moods of these folk-inspired melodies, from the plaintive Asturiana to the acerbic piano introduction to a story of revenge on an untrue lover (Polo). Weilerstein ability to “sing” on her cello’s strings was especially evident in the mellifluous lullaby Nana (where the piano was a tad too loud) and in the more complex Jota.

The same feel for narrative and ability to sustain tension unmistakably marked the duo’s rendition of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata in G minor. Composed in 1901, in the same year he completed his Second Piano Concerto, this chamber work shares with that more famous work the same type of generous, expansive themes and unabashed romanticism with big climactic moments that must be carefully prepared. Weilerstein’s gift for using infinitesimal variations of nuances and shadows was obvious from the first bars of the slow, interrogative introduction to the first movement. With his more restrained approach and great variety of tone, Barnatan proved to be a great partner for the intense cellist. His ability to shift rapidly from light to dramatic fingerwork and from mysterious to declamatory statements was outstanding. The two players contrasted well the dark, tense sonorities of the Allegro scherzando with the lyricism of the following Andante with its repeated single notes evoking the sounds of tolling church bells. In the uplifting Finale, Weilerstein and Barnatan balanced virtuosic and lyrical moments, continuously demonstrating their capability to interplay with each other smoothly and effortlessly.

Shortened performances without intermission when the public is in attendance are fully justified in the current circumstances. But it is not at all clear why concerts recorded in empty halls must be similarly brief. As charming as the inclusion of De Falla’s dances were, a recital lasting longer than 45 minutes could have been possible. 

This performance was reviewed from the 92Y video stream