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MUSIC REVIEW : CELLIST SMITH, PIANIST NEAL IN RECITAL

Though consisting of just three pieces, the recital Monday evening at Brand Library shared by cellist Gayle Smith and pianist Leonora Neal managed to be many things. In its disparate results, the unfocused program suggested a tryout of new repertory.

A native Glendoran, Smith was on her home ground, a fact undoubtedly reflected in the large and supportive audience. She is currently on the faculty of the University of Utah, as is Neal.

Smith’s forte seems to be big, forceful playing, of a decidedly Romantic cast. Even granting the amplifying effect of the resonant hall at Brand, she clearly possesses an instrument of broad, burly tone, which she brandishes commandingly.

Unfortunately, that is not the prime requisite for the Sonata in D, BWV 1028, which Bach wrote for viola da gamba and harpsichord. Smith’s blunt, stylistically naive approach overwhelmed the piece. Her fingers and bow are certainly quick enough, but this out-size interpretation sounded almost clumsy.

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In Rachmaninoff’s Sonata, Smith was in her element. She put the lush melodies forward with little exaggeration, her portamento touches sparing enough to be effective. The soft end of her dynamic scale was only a sort of hoarse mezzo-forte, but she is capable of such stentorian efforts that there was plenty of room for contrast.

The cellist’s speed and accuracy were never in doubt, although Rachmaninoff’s demands are more musical than pyrotechnical. With the Scherzo and Finale, she proved she could dance as well as croon, though it was the lyric Andante she repeated as her lone encore.

Neither sonata slights the keyboard part, and Neal participated fully, providing pertinent support at every turn, and taking her solo opportunities with assurance. She did tend to hold her bass lines back dynamically--an unnecessary deference considering her partner’s robust projection.

In that, however, she had to fight the muffled tone of the resident Grotrian Steinweg piano. That instrument’s murky voice actually enhanced the somber Lento theme of Liszt’s B-minor Piano Sonata, an odd companion for the Bach. But it made the more athletic portions sound like they were played under water.

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Neal projected an appropriately heroic, impetuous character, with generally firm octaves, even passage-work, and heavy foot-stomping on the most thundering climaxes. There were also numerous inaccuracies in the first Allegro, and a nearly disastrous memory lapse midway through. She recovered, however, and rounded the work out nicely.


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