Young Canadian cellist Shauna Rolston arrived in Los Angeles with a publicity kit worthy of the second coming of Casals. Tuesday evening, her Pro Musicis recital at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art went a long way toward justifying the hoopla--and that, despite a conservative program.
There was nothing conservative, however, in her performance of Sonatas by Debussy, Brahms and Franck.
According to her publicity, Rolston--born in 1967--has been playing cello since she was 2, and there is little her hands haven't learned. One could wish for greater clarity in her passage work, and her rich, round tone became buzzy under pressure in certain ranges. Otherwise, she can play with the best of a very fine generation of cellists.
Interpretively, she is a wonder of contradictions. Her unflappable technique lets her respond to stylistic superficies with telling control. The gently sung opening of Brahms' E-minor Sonata, for example, or the buoyant lilt of the Allegretto in the same work were models of pertinent nuance.
But she also seems in danger of turning into a generalized cello personality. She ends every loud phrase with a rhetorical rip, flings her left hand off the fingerboard whenever she plays a sustained open string, and makes every forceful entrance with an exaggerated shove. At times, the effect is almost caricature.
Rolston's expressive rubato in Debussy's Sonata would challenge any accompanist, but pianist Bernadene Blaha proved supportive at every turn. Blaha made the Sonatas true partnerships, producing an effective palette from a dull-sounding instrument. The pair rewarded the small audience's clear appreciation with an encore by Dvorak.