A program of music from the early Romantic era joined Professor Brent Wissick of UNC Chapel Hill (violoncello) and Professor Andrew Willis (fortepiano) of UNC Greensboro in recital at Person Hall, capacity 110.
The program opened with the Beethoven Sonata Op. 102/2. A problem usually afflicting works from this period, when heard on modern instruments, is that though all instruments have become louder since the early nineteenth century, the contrast between the heavy steel-framed concert piano of today and the light wood-framed piano of the early nineteenth century is extreme, so that unless the pianist is extremely delicate, he or she will drown out the partnering instrument. The balance between Wissick’s warm-toned cello and Willis’s fortepiano was quite the opposite, with the cello dominating. I was not entirely convinced by the Beethoven. Given that the Adagio is marked “con molto sentimento d’affeto,” Wissick could have dug deeper to bring out extremes of expression on both ends of the dynamic spectrum. The closing fugato is “difficult,” admittedly, but the overly-fast tempo meant that how it hangs together was not at all clear.
Both in the Beethoven and in the brief Duport study for solo cello which followed, Wissick’s playing was afflicted by occasional problems with intonation, problems which might have been less evident in the usual modern style with ever-present vibrato, but which stood out in this context.
The first half closed with four of the five Stucke im Volkston, Op. 102, of Schumann, including a lovely, lullaby-like “Langsam.” After intermission Willis was featured solo in the Prelude and Fugue, Op. 35/6 of Mendelssohn, with the fizzing fugue going at a virtuoso clip to its unison finale passage, making quite an effect.
Mendelssohn’s Sonata Op. 45 for cello and piano, which closed the program, was played so well that it would almost make one reverse one’s notions of the relative statures of Ludwig and Felix. Wissick and Willis shone in Mendelssohn’s extremely idiomatic writing for the two instruments, with Willis firing off cascade after cascade of notes in the final moments of the sonata, a work in which his Graf copy was a perfect match for Wissick’s cello. The program was warmly received by the capacity audience.