ELLIOTT CHENEY, CELLO, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, Sunday
The solitary chair front and center on an otherwise empty stage in Libby Gardner Concert Hall Sunday evening was a startling sight. The starkness that this scene conjured up contrasted dramatically with the music that was about to be played when Elliott Cheney came onstage and sat in the chair. His immense musical presence quickly filled the hall with his profoundly moving playing of J.S. Bach's Suites for solo cello.
Sunday's recital was a continuation of what Cheney began a week earlier. At that time, he played the odd-numbered suites. Sunday, he concluded with Nos. 2, 4 and 6.
As was the case the previous week, Cheney brought an overwhelming insight into the music. His interpretations were wonderfully perceptive and thoughtful. His readings were honest and sincere, and he touched his audience with his expressive playing and stunning virtuosity.
The six suites are masterpieces of the baroque era, and one of the crowning achievements in Bach's immense output. They're every bit the equal to the six partitas and sonatas Bach wrote for solo violin in the way he explores the instrument and also in their spectacular counterpoint. The challenge for the performer in these pieces is in bringing out the various voices and bringing clarity to the complexity of the inner lines. Cheney does a remarkable job with that each line is clear and articulate, and the execution is impeccable.
But Cheney goes one step further. His expressive playing integrates the different lines into the musical fabric as a whole. He brings cohesiveness to the music as well as a lucidity of direction.
Cheney's expressiveness blossoms in the sarabandes. These old stately dances find new life with Bach, and the manner in which Cheney played these movements in each of the suites Sunday mesmerized the audience. Cheney's eloquent readings of these pieces, especially the one in the Fourth Suite (BWV 1010), were wondrously poetic and captured the exquisite beauty of the music.
On the other hand, the lively dance movements (the courantes, the bourrees and the gigues) were given vibrancy and vitality. Cheney's sense of rhythm was impeccable. His playing here was dynamic, and he brought these movements to life with his ebullience.
The Sixth Suite (BWV 1012), with which Cheney ended his recital, is the most demanding of the three he played Sunday. The virtuosity expected of the performer is impressive. (Bach writes the opening prelude, for example, in the style of a keyboard toccata, with rapid fire figurations.) And Cheney delivered. He gave a tremendously compelling performance that was filled with bravura playing and tempered with exquisite lyricism. It was without question the highlight of the evening.