Chinese cellist Hai Zheng appeared in recital in the cozy brick space of Carswell Concert Hall, under the auspices of the Meredith Center in the Arts for Women. Hai Zheng studied with Paul Olefsky, whose notable students include among their number Fred Raimi of the Ciompi Quartet at Duke. The program began with a suite of lyrical pieces by Antonín Dvořák played without interruption – first, "Silent Woods" (an arrangement by the composer of a movement from a suite of six sketches for piano four hands), the Rondo Op. 94, and "Songs my mother taught me," No. 4 from the Gypsy Melodies, Op. 55. Dvořák's Slavic melodies gave Zheng the opportunity to show her gift for singing out a cantabile, with frequent and effective use of portamento, something certainly appropriate to this repertoire, but little heard nowadays. "Silent Woods" was elegiac in tone, and beautifully rendered here. The dance rhythms of the Rondo might have been marked "Im Volkston" by Schumann.
A rarity, and one well worth hearing, was the Suite for Solo Cello by Alexander Tcherepnin, dating from 1971. The Russian Tcherepnin was peripatetic, his family escaping the 1917 revolution to Georgia, only to have the Communists take over there as well. He spent quite some time in Shanghai in the thirties, where he married a Chinese pianist, Lee Hsien Ming. The Suite is a substantial and serious work composed towards the end of his life (1971), drawing on Chinese idioms, but not in any kind of clichéd way, with a virtuoso concluding movement.
From about the same time, but much less modern in style, is the 1977 Remembrance for cello and piano by Ki-Ling Lui, with an operatic, rhapsodic mix of Western and Chinese music. After intermission, there was the A minor Sonata, Op. 36 by Grieg, the first piece in which pianist Jane Hawkins had more than simply accompanimental duties, being an equal partner with the cello. Her playing demonstrated clarity and control combined with expression – first rate.
Zheng was crafty in including what might have been an encore (a charming morceau – the "Sentimental Waltz," Op. 51, No. 6 by Tchaikovsky) as the final listed item on the concert. To sum up: an excursion through various European peripheries (Norway, Russia, China), but which spiritually remained with its focus the inward ponderings of the Middle-European soul; a masterful program.