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Cellist David Requiro returns to San Francisco Performances

Cellist David Requiro
Cellist David Requiro
courtesy of San Francisco Performances

Cellist David Requiro gave his first San Francisco Performances (SFP) recital in 2009. This was at a free gift concert for subscribers arranged to present winners of the Naumburg Competition. Requiro had won the 2008 Naumburg International Violoncello Competition. He also won First Prize locally in the Irving M. Klein International String Competition, through which he had given a recital in the Noontime Concerts™ series. This afternoon he returned to SFP to give the final recital in this season’s Young Masters Series at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His accompanist for this recital was pianist Solon Gordon. The program consisted of three highly diverse sonatas by, in the order of performance, Zoltán Kodály, Pierre Jalbert, and Frédéric Chopin.

Chopin’s Opus 65 in G minor occupied all of the second half of this program; and, in many respects, it was the most impressive offering, not only for the performers but also for Chopin himself. This was the last piece by Chopin to be published during his lifetime, composed between 1845 and 1846; and it is his most successful effort in working with the large scale forms found in both sonata and concerto movements. Also, when compared with the two piano concertos, this sonata exhibits far more sensitivity to interplay between the two instruments. Because Chopin held back on his usual flood of embellishing tropes for the piano, this sonata is much more a shared exploration of thematic material, in which each of the two instruments approaches that material through the capacities of its rhetorical potential.

As might be guessed, the execution of such a score depends heavily on the chemistry established between cellist and pianist. This afternoon that chemistry could not have been better. There was always common agreement as to who was occupying the foreground, leaving the other to provide the appropriate context in the background. One might almost suggest that Chopin was beginning to break new ground in what he wanted to write with this sonata, but ill health would not allow him to pursue these ideas any further. From that point of view, Requiro and Gordon came through with an interpretation that not only gave a solid account of what was in the score but also served up suggestions of what could have been had the composer had a few more healthy years ahead of him.

In contrast Kodály’s sonata was written relatively early in his career, between 1909 and 1910. This was after he had written his thesis on Hungarian folk song (in 1906) and in the time frame of his field work with his colleague Béla Bartók. It is thus not surprising that the thematic vocabulary of this sonata reflects that field work (nor, for that matter, is it surprising that Bartók was the pianist when this sonata was first performed on March 17, 1910). In this case interpretation had as much to do with sonorities as with the melodic material; and Requiro was particularly effective in eliciting sonorities that, while clearly intended for the concert hall, suggested the coarser qualities of the material that probably inspired Kodály. This was particularly true of his solo passages for the opening Fantasia and the soulful way in which he returned to that material as the coda for the far more energetic Allegro con spirito movement.

Those who follow the Delphi Trio know that they have championed the piano trio that Jalbert composed in 1998. This is a strikingly visceral composition that seems to be exploring all the different ways in which the expenditure of energy may be expressed. The cello sonata, however, is a significantly different affair. It was composed for cellist David Finckel and his wife Wu Han, who first performed it at the Aspen Music Festival on June 25, 2008. Where the trio was impetuous, the sonata came across as more cerebral, almost as if its motives had been calculated. This was music that one could admire for its technical details; but it lacked the gut-level connections established by both Kodály and Chopin.

Fortunately, the encore for the program had no trouble establishing such gut-level connections. It was “Sachidao,” the third of the set Five Pieces on Folk Themes by the Georgian composer Sulkhan Tsintsadze. Somewhat in the same spirit as the Kodály sonata, this short piece began with a soulful incantation from the cello, which then gave way to far more energetic rhythms, the sort that practically defy the listener not to tap his/her foot. This was my first encounter with Tsintsadze, who seems to have done for the indigenous music of Georgia what his Soviet predecessor, Aram Khachaturian, had done for Armenian music.