University of Utah Music Department
Elliott Cheney

Cellist Elliott Cheney is always ready for a challenge. Not content with just the standard cello repertoire, he's interested in expanding his repertoire as well as presenting concerts that are intellectually and artistically stimulating — not only for him but also for his audience.

Last fall over two concerts he tackled the bible of his instrument's repertoire — the six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by J.S. Bach. And today, he'll be playing a 20th-century masterwork, along with one of the instrument's showcase pieces and a sonata that he hasn't yet performed.

Originally, Cheney told the Deseret Morning News that he wanted to do one of Beethoven's celebrated cello sonatas. However, Colin Carr will be returning to Libby Gardner Concert Hall in March playing the complete Beethoven cello sonatas. "So Larry and I talked a little more about what we could do," Cheney said, referring to University of Utah pianist Larry Gee, who will accompany Cheney at today's recital.

What they came up with is a program that Cheney calls "mostly romantic," consisting of Shostakovich's Cello Sonata, op. 40, Mendelssohn's Sonata for Cello and Piano in D major, and Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise.

"I suggested the Shostakovich," Cheney said. "It's really a beautiful piece and not as dark as some of his other chamber works."

Cheney first heard the piece when he was in high school. "Robert Sylvester played it, and I immediately liked it. It's really a fun piece." But it wasn't until years later that Cheney had the chance to perform it himself in concert. "It was in the late '80s or early '90s that I played it. That was at a recital at the University of Kentucky. (Today's) concert will only be the second time that I'll be doing it."

Although many concertgoers see Shostakovich as a modern composer, there is a strong romantic element running through much of his music. In the case of the Cello Sonata, Shostakovich wrote a piece that is very listenable and devoid of the biting sarcasm that infuses his later works. The sonata is from 1934, not long before the composer fell into disfavor with the Soviet authorities over his musical style.

The Shostakovich pairs well with a number of 19th century cello sonatas. "It was Larry's suggestion that I pair it with Mendelssohn's D major Sonata," Cheney said. "I've known it since I was a teenager, but (Sunday) will be the first time that I'm playing it."

The D major Sonata isn't performed in recital frequently, Cheney said. "I don't know why because it's such a nice piece. It's so positive. It exudes goodness, like all of his pieces."

The Mendelssohn sonata will open the program, Cheney said. "It will get everyone in a good mood for the Shostakovich."

Closing out the recital will be Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise. As originally written, the cello part was simple and hardly more than an accompaniment for the piano. In the 20th century, cellists began reworking the part to make it more dazzling and virtuosic. "I believe it was (Emanuel) Feuermann who first started playing around with it." Feuermann's arrangement puts the spotlight firmly on the cello, of course, and relegates the piano to a secondary role. For cellists, there is no doubt which version they prefer playing, and it's Feuermann's version that Cheney will perform today.

If you go . . .

What: Elliott Cheney, cello, Larry Gee, piano

Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah

When: Today 7 p.m.

How much: Free

E-mail: [email protected]