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Music Reviews : Rosen, Pennario Team at Colemam Concerts

Cellist Nathaniel Rosen and pianist Leonard Pennario offered a fascinating study in contrasts at their Coleman Chamber Concerts appearance in Beckman Auditorium at Caltech.

Playing three great cello sonatas (Beethoven’s G-minor, Opus 5, Debussy’s and Rachmaninoff’s), the duo expressed highly individual concepts of each composition while maintaining generally tidy ensemble and total musical integrity Sunday afternoon.

Rosen has developed into a genuine showman while sacrificing nothing of lofty artistic purpose. His visual theatrics flow directly from the music, neither overpowering nor trivializing it. He produces the aural goods, to order and without disorder, that justify the heart-on-sleeve emoting. This was grand-manner cello playing.

Pennario, on the other hand, parked his familiar dazzle somewhere else for this occasion, serving instead as the most discreet of collaborators. This approach--piano as foil to the cello’s diamond--worked well enough except for those passages where the pianist was plainly too deferential.

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Beethoven’s G-minor Sonata (composed in 1796) emerged as an absorbing conundrum, the same piece played two different ways simultaneously: Pennario’s pristine, rather faceless Classical-period delineation alongside Rosen’s emphasis on elements presaging the Romantic era. The breakneck clip of the final Allegro found Pennario having trouble articulating runs, Rosen sailing through with nimble nonchalance.

Debussy’s sonata was splendidly served both by the pianist’s almost obstinate restraint and the cellist’s flamboyant eloquence.

Rosen met every demand of the blowzy Rachmaninoff with lustrous tone (unaffected by tempo extremes), abandoned bravura and heart-rending, songful legato, seconded by Pennario’s secure virtuosity.

Encores: Chopin’s E-flat Largo, soulfully limned, and the Scherzo of the Prokofiev Sonata, a romp for both artists.

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