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Frequent-flying cellist sure doesn't sound tired

05.05.10
Inon Barnatan & Alisa Weilerstein, Inon Barnatan, Alisa Weilerstein
Omaha World-Herald

By John Pitcher

These are frenetic times for cellist Alisa Weilerstein.

She was in Germany just a few days ago, playing Elgar with Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic. And later this week, she's off to the West Coast to play Dvorak with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its superstar conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.

If Weilerstein is feeling jet-lagged, she didn't show it Tuesday, when she played a Tuesday Musical Concert Series recital at the Joslyn Art Museum. Weilerstein and her accompanist, the terrific Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan, presented a program that was both technically daunting and artistically uncompromising. They played every note with unbridled virtuosity.

They opened with about as challenging a work as you get –– Beethoven's Cello Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102, No. 2. This is a very passionate, probing piece that ends in a diabolically difficult fugue. Weilerstein and Barnatan were equal to its challenges.

Both artists were intensely in the moment, playing with their eyes closed and their hearts seemingly on their sleeves. There was an almost perfect emotional symbiosis between these artists. Barnatan would begin a phrase, and Weilerstein would take it up and match its shape and dynamic level perfectly. It was like listening to a couple having an intimate conversation.

Benjamin Britten's Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 65, which came next, was a different kind of dialogue. Rather than a civilized back-and-forth, this sonata is like a heated exchange, with the musicians playing feverishly at the same time.

Weilerstein and Barnatan gave a thrilling performance, tossing off the difficult pizzicato and perpetual motion sections with ease. Their interpretation of the sonata's elegy was like a purgative lament that seemingly stopped time.

Igor Stravinsky is the 20th century's best-known modernist, so it seemed ironic that his Suite Italienne was the most traditional piece on the program. Weilerstein and Barnatan played this neo-Baroque piece with grace, taste and charm.

Tuesday's concert ended with César Franck's Cello Sonata in A major. This is a monumental Romantic work, and Weilerstein and Barnatan played it with sweep and drama.