Mørk and Abduraimov make an exquisite team in Shriver Hall concert

Mon May 07, 2018 at 12:23 pm

Cellist Truls Mørk and pianist Behzod Abduraimov performed Sunday for the Shriver Hall Concert Series.

Sometimes two musicians form a partnership that is even greater than the sum of its parts. Such was the combination of Truls Mørk and Behzod Abduraimov, heard in a Sunday recital presented by Shriver Hall Concert Series at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Pikesville. The program consisted of two major cello sonatas, by Grieg and Rachmaninoff, each introduced by an encore-length bonbon by the other composer of that pairing.

Composers, too, can form ideal collaborations with performers, sometimes producing stellar music. Rachmaninoff composed both of the cello pieces heard on this concert for his friend, the Russian cellist Anatoli Brandukov. He wrote the Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, op. 2, when he was still in his teens and just graduating from conservatory.

Rachmaninoff composed the first of these pieces, “Prélude,” for piano initially before adapting it for himself and Brandukov to play. Abduraimov, a daring young piano virtuoso born in Uzbekistan and still in his 20s, spun a soft web of sound with a delicacy that belied his youth, matched by an ardent but contained sound from Mørk. The duo rendered the stereotypical “eastern” sounds of the second piece, “Danse orientale,” with tasteful restraint, drawing out long arches with each phrase.

Is it possible that Mørk was last in the Washington area for his guest appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2005? It has been not quite a decade since the Norwegian cellist was sidelined by a rare form of encephalitis that left his shoulder paralyzed, requiring months of physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Since his return to the platform in 2011, he has clearly recovered all of his former skill and then some.

Grieg’s Cello Sonata in A Minor opened with a restless quality that set it off from the sugary Rachmaninoff that had introduced it. Mørk smoldered especially in the elegiac second theme of the first movement, supported by understated but devastating playing from Abduraimov. The slow movement featured a rapturous entwining of lines between cello and piano, and the finale quivered in elfin fashion, with just a hint of dark malice.

Grieg’s Intermezzo for Cello and Piano in A Minor offered the least rewards, its wandering, aimless theme given a melancholic sheen by both performers.

The shortcomings of that piece, though, were quickly forgotten with the ensuing blockbuster performance of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor. Again composed for himself and Anatoli Brandukov to play, it is a virtuosic tour de force.

In the first movement Mørk confidently unspooled his part with an ease of rubato that comes from knowing that his partner would follow him like a shadow. Through much of the program, Abduraimov had disguised his virtuosic playing under a cloak of reserve and tact. Here, especially in the ferocious hand-crossing demands of the keyboard part, he made the fireworks pop.

Abduraimov expanded the dynamic spectrum even further in the second movement, a scherzo pulsating with anxiety, still keeping the sound in control so as not to overwhelm the sound of his partner. Mørk led an earnest, tender rendition of this sonata’s gorgeous slow movement, with perfect intonation and svelte tone even high on the A string. The duo wisely never crossed the line into self-indulgent sentimentality. The finale bristled and danced in Mørk’s hands, supported by Abduraimov’s transparent touch at the piano in all that endless figuration.

Vociferous ovations elicited a not-unexpected encore, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, in one of the arrangements for cello. The greatest testament to the musical value of this duo’s partnership came in these few minutes, in which they played one of the most familiar pieces in the canon with spontaneity and a poignant simplicity.

Shriver Hall closes out the season with a concert by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, 5:30 p.m. May 20 at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts. shriverconcerts.org; 410-516-7164


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