Cellist Sebastian Bäverstam, the 24-year-old former child prodigy who debuted at Carnegie Hall at age 14, brought the third season of the Harker Concert Series to a brilliant close on Feb. 8, performing a special collection of Russian music from Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff to a sold-out audience.
Partnered throughout the concert by accomplished pianist Pei-Shan Lee, Bäverstam began with Prokofiev’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in C Major, moving gracefully through its contemplative and somewhat somber first movement, trading phrases with Lee as though in conversation. The brisker second and third movements evoked a more upbeat style from the cellist, who swayed and bobbed through the faster sections as the call-and-response interplay with Lee continued. His physical expressiveness seemed to mirror his similarly impassioned interpretation of the material, taking deep breaths before long legato passages and moving vigorously during the galloping, more technically challenging sections, for which he was more than up to the task. Lee handled the piece with the right amounts of aggression and restraint.
Bäverstam and Lee briefly left the stage following the conclusion of the sonata, prompting some audience members to head to the lobby for drinks and hors d’oeuvres, believing the concert to be at an intermission. The two nevertheless returned a short time later to perform Shostakovich’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, but not before Bäverstam quipped, “Sorry. It’s not over yet.”
The shifting tensions and moods of Shostakovich’s sonata were brought out wonderfully by Bäverstam’s ability to interpret the varied themes with both subtlety and flair. The wide, ominous piano passages of the first movement were met by the disquieting melody provided by Bäverstam, whose splendid vibrato powerfully buoyed every note until the disturbing calm was broken by the second movement’s urgency and energy, driven by Bäverstam and Lee’s bombastic yet controlled approach, later contrasted by the desolation and sobriety of the “Largo” movement before being brought a crashing finish in the final movement, guided by the dexterous, emotive performance of the two players.
Following the (actual) intermission, the duo returned to the stage to perform the evening’s final piece, Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, whose challenging first movement, characterized by varying tempos and moods, was superbly handled. The sonata also gave ample opportunity for Lee to demonstrate her immense talents, nimbly maneuvering her way through the piece’s more challenging sections while simultaneously finding the array of emotion underneath. Despite an exhausting program, Bäverstam and Lee had no discernible trouble summoning the energy necessary for the final run of the Sonata’s Vivace.