Cellist Eugene Lifschitz gave a richly varied and impressively musical recital Sunday evening at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Palo Alto. Opening with the Bach cello suite in D minor, he struck a good balance between a warm, full-bodied cello sound and the gentle tapers of Baroque phrasing. Lifschitz brought the same sensitive phrasing to Pendereki’s Per Slava, a solo cello piece in a different musical idiom but with references back to Bach, who pioneered the unaccompanied solo cello genre. The two soliloquies made for a well-matched pair.
After intermission, Lifschitz was joined by his mother, Era Lifschitz on piano in Brahms’ Sonata No. 2 in F. The family duo achieved a deeply unified sense of ensemble, evenly balanced and well timed. Era’s chords were startlingly strong when they needed to be, but also blended with the dark cello sound. Eugene’s ability to sustain a powerful tone throughout the length of a slow-moving bow proved ideal for Brahms’ long melodic lines especially in the second movement. It was interesting to hear the natural ease with which the mother-son duo interacted, allowing Eugene to play with an honest boyish confidence. Another member of the family, Konstantin, is also a successful pianist, currently working as a music professor in Lucerne, Switzerland. Whether nature, nurture, or both-- something is musically very right in the Lifschitz family.
Leone Sinigaglia (1868-1944), a rarely performed Italian composer was then introduced-- a long musical life that that was abruptly ended in the Holocaust. His Umoresca (Humoresque) was fleeting and charming . For the encore, the Lifschitzes performed Paganini’s Variations on theme by Rossini, on one string. Amazingly, it sounded even better on cello than it usually does on violin (cellos have a bigger playable range due to the longer fingerboard and wider spacing), with beautiful intonation and amazing virtuosity.
The recital was well attended by the south bay’s tight-knit and musically appreciative Russian emigre community. Eugene has studied in stints at conservatories in New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, and now Munich-- apparently pursuing access to teachers rather a diploma. When you can play like this, who needs a diploma?