It is rare to witness a performance that remains wholly absorbing from start to finish.
Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott offered this captivating experience in a duo recital of cello and piano, reiterating the musical expression that solidifies their world-class reputation.
They performed Thursday in a sold-out Helzberg Hall, presented by the Harriman-Jewell Series in its 50th anniversary season.
Throughout the performance they maintained an attitude of immediacy and demanded the same from the audience. The two sustained energy between movements to ensure an emotive through line. Until the end neither Ma nor Stott spoke from the stage, beginning each piece with little ado..
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They did not pamper the music, drawing out the marrow of the works in a performance that, while dramatic, did not veer into theatricality. Ma accentuated the grittier tones of the cello, making works seem new and present.
In Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne,” one could hear the character of Pulcinella in the robust melodies and mischievous treatment as Ma’s bow stuttered and squeaked under the piano line.
Stott began a set of three pieces from Latin America, the languid line in Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Alma Brasileira” lingering over harmonic angst and tempo fluctuations.
Subtle dance rhythms of Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” underscored an anguished melody ending in a glissando, while treatment of Camargo Guarnieri’s “Dansa Negra” was more raucous.
Handling of Manuel de Falla’s “Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas” was much the same, each song given an emotional quality.
The second set began with a nearly imperceptible pianissimo in the cello starting Olivier Messiaen’s “Louange a l’Eternite de Jesus,” from “Quatuor pour la fin du Temps,” while Stott’s steady, nuanced chords supported the tension and the consuming crescendo.
Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor had a commanding sense of urgency, with interlocking rhythms, intense flourishes and contrasts of fiery and sweet moments.
In response to the audience’s many standing ovations (including at intermission), Ma and Stott offered multiple encores. Here they allowed a little lightheartedness into the act, Ma playfully miming unwillingness as Stott herded him toward the piano. They ended the performance, however, with Camille Saint-Saens’ meditative “The Swan,” as a final calming breath.