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Baltacigil on Boyle - and Bach to the Rescue

Efe BaltacigilThe storm that blew young Turkish cellist Efe Baltacigil onto North American stages happened in January 2005 in Philadelphia, and it didn’t so much blow him on there but keep everyone away from it: with most of the orchestra stuck somewhere in the snow, the lone cellist and scheduled soloist Emanuel Ax hastily rehearsed for a few minutes and went on stage to entertain those audience members who had braved the weather. The result was an enthusiastically received Beethoven F major sonata, op. 5, no. 1. The same work opened WPAS’s concert at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Tuesday – co-presented by the Young Concert Artists Series.

A great future the young man will have (and in fact already has as the associate principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra), but his appearances bear the expectations of hearing something special. It is questionable if he can live up to that at every recital; last Tuesday he could not. The Beethoven, for example, was well played – but lacked any palpable excitement. His partner in crime, pianist Anna Polonsky, made up for some of that here with engaged playing, but she looked more zestful than she sounded: extremes acted out with the body, not always on the Steinway in front of her. Wonderful mezzo-forte and up, she played boldly and didn’t hold back (although a little less wild after the Beethoven). Holding back would not have been necessary, anyway, given Mr. Baltacigil’s rich, voluminous sound. More expressiveness in the soft passages, more subtle shades of piano and pianissimo are on my wishlist for her playing.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Baltacigil Soars On Wings of Faure (Washington Post, April 27)
After the Beethoven it was on to a piece by the Philadelphia composer Benjamin C. S. Boyle (did I mention “disgustingly young” Philadelphia composer Benhamin C. S. Boyle? I would hate to abandon even a bad tradition… [read previous reviews of his work here and here]) for whose works Ionarts has a propensity of seeking concerts to go to. Composed in Paris last year, the Sonata for Cello and Piano was made for this occasion and specifically around Efe Baltacigil’s playing. It would be folly to claim that that was discernable, but it was obvious that the cellist took to the piece with gusto, cherished it and its three differing movements. Starting with a pizzicato element that suggests a jazzy flavor, the first movement (“Fantasia” - Poco Allegretto, molto liberamente) quickly changes course and becomes a free-wheelin’, double-stoppin’, roughly six-minute-long work that manages to sound novel and conventional at the same time. It doesn’t deny its 2005 date, but even conservative ears will find it listenable. The pro-Baltacigil partisan crowd in the Terrace Theater loved it. A plain, plaintive middle movement (Lento doloroso) followed, with one short peak of energy in an otherwise limp dramatic arch, haunted, saddened… perhaps because it lost its destination? We arrive at the third, final, shortest movement (Allegro molto energico e espressivo) anyway, and “energico” it is indeed. It was here that Baltacigil/Polonsky created a fair amount of ruckus, much to the benefit of the pleasant sonata. Probably shy of the best of Boyle’s work, it is only an example of the depth of this composer: so-so Boyle still sounds better than many a composer's – dead or alive – better works and we hope for more.

After intermission it was Fauré’s Papillon and Chopin’s sonata in G minor. Very lovely, flighty butterfly, that Fauré… but still not particularly convincing as far as the cellist was concerned. In the Chopin he showed us what we knew already: he has fleet fingers, total engagement with the music in front of him, a big tone, a near flawless technique. But his cello never sings, never just plays on its own (only a hint of that in the Largo); it is always pushed, pulled, beaten, driven. That can make for terribly exciting music (I suggest DSCH for a fitting match), but it can also make for listening fatigue, for a subsiding of interest after a while. (This “I’m here, all the time” way of playing may have suited the wide-eyed Boyle sonata best of those four works.) Efe Baltacigil obviously knows how to play the cello – now if he can also be played by the cello on occasion, we will deal with a musician as good as some of the reviews already suggest.

Good thing I did not leave right away (or more precisely: not fast enough), because the proof of much greater capability came hidden in the encore. Not the Gershwin arrangement, although that was nice, too, but the Bach: the Prelude from the C minor Suite (BWV 1011) was magnificent. Finally he let the cello sing. It goes to show that Bach can turn a recital one way or the other: Khachatryan’s Bach left a bad aftertaste following a very fine recital, here Bach was the brilliant finishing touch for a unremarkable recital. So ist das Leben.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note -- he was really unwell that night and was grateful just to make it through the recital. So while admittedly not his best, I think he played well under the circumstances.