The elegant young cellist Jiyoung Lee established fine rapport with the large audience assembled at Walnut Hill School this past Saturday, introducing each offering with articulate and trenchant background comments in her concert for the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts. She began an eclectic program featuring musical metamorphosis with Johan Sebastian Bach’s 5th Suite for Unaccompanied Cello in C Minor BWV 1011, before continuing with the fine collaboration of pianist, Victor Cayres.
Bach transcribed and transposed the 5th Cello Suite from his G Minor Lute Suite, BWV 995. Its Prelude, which often (but not tonight) uses scordatura tuning, is actually a prelude and fugue, beginning with deep, nearly frog-like tones, and then becoming the sprightly fugue, which is so cleverly written that it sounds as if simultaneously multiply voiced, when most of the time that is not the case. Lee’s version of Allemande felt solitary, but that is its intended mood, evocative of a walking meditation. The multi-voiced Courante, unique among the 6 cello suites in being in 3/2 meter, was rendered consistently with its compact energy; it is a movement that leaves me wishing it were longer. In the Sarabande, Lee conveyed the sparse sadness that Bach seemingly intended. The two Gavottes are contrasting, but still reflective of the minor key— the first with three voices, and the second, flowing. The Gigue continues the somberness. Lee’s careful, perhaps a bit too understated performance nevertheless fit for the C minor mood.
Lee and Cayres next presented the suite-like Cello Sonata in E Major, attributed to long-lived Franḉois Francoeur (1698-1787), but likely first written as a violin sonata with continuo by Francoeur l’ainé (Louis), his less prolific older brother. It came into the modern cello repertoire after Arnold Trowell dug it up and transcribed it for violincello and piano in 1924. Lee and Cayres interpreted the poignant Andante Cantabile with conviction, and the virtuosic and technically challenging Allegro vivo, which came next (and might have been written by Trowell), was handled by the duo with aplomb. The Gavotte provided a pleasant interlude, followed by the soulful Largo Cantabile, and the Gigue, interpreted as nearly a hornpipe.
Leoš Janáček created several versions of Pohádka, or fairy tale, based on Zhukovsky’s epic poem about the Tsar Berendyeyk between 1910 and 1923; most versions were specifically for cello and at least one, for double bass. Pohádka stems from an unhappy period in the composer’s life, after the death of his daughter, Olga and conveys the regret and grief he clearly felt. Here Lee and Cayres provided a heartfelt, caring rendition that I considered the evening’s gem.
Chopin dedicated his last major work, the Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Opus 65, to his long-time friend, the cellist August Franchomme; it provided an evocative Romantic period finale. The four movements, linked by the primary cello motif, indicate how Chopin was actively and consciously trying on the Germanic sonata form. He neither transcribed nor adapted in this work, but it took much effort until Chopin was satisfied. If he wrote the cello part first, as some suggest, the work partners the instruments effectively, though for me, the piano dominates. The sonorous and collaborative rendition by Lee and Cayres pleased us all.