Rising cellist, pianist blend for enjoyable show

Inon Barnatan & Alisa Weilerstein, Inon Barnatan, Alisa Weilerstein
Denver Post

By Kyle MacMillan

To understand how fast Alisa Weilerstein's star is rising, consider that she sandwiched her Denver recital Wednesday evening in between a debut last week with the Berlin Philharmonic and another one next week with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

As the cellist's remarkable performance as part of the Friends of Chamber Music series made clear, she is no mere trendy talent. At 28, she has established herself as a fully formed interpreter of substance and originality.

Weilerstein has been something of a regular in Denver, dazzling audiences since she made her first appearance with the Colorado Symphony in 2001 as a teenager. But this was the first chance to hear her up close, on her terms.

Typically, with duo recitals of this kind, the reviewer mentions the accompanying pianist at the end, but that was impossible here, because this was a concert of true musical partnership.

Inon Barnatan, who received a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2009, is a significant emerging artist in his own right, displaying seemingly limitless facility, infectious gusto and no shortage of interpretative maturity.

There is an instinctive dialogue and musical spark between them. They bring urgency, intensity and edginess to their performing. There is no playing it safe.

Nowhere was that more apparent than in one of the evening's highlights — Benjamin Britten's five-movement Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 65. Though never forbiddingly avant-garde, it still sounds contemporary and challenging nearly 50 years after its debut.

The two captured the unsettled, gritty beauty of this work, communicating the disconcertingly off-kilter, helter-skelter sense of the first movement and nailing the intricate pairing of the cello's long notes and the pianist's oddly flittering passages in the third.

Overall, the program cut a swath through some of the noted works of the 19th and 20th centuries, ending with a version of Cesar Franck's Cello Sonata in A major that was passionate and elegant.