Janos Starker, aloof, magisterial, the great stone face of the cello, and Menahem Pressler, that most animated and passionate of pianists, proved an oddly matched pair at their Coleman Concerts recital in Beckman Auditorium at Caltech on Sunday.
In an afternoon of orderly, low-key music making, Pressler consistently deferred to his partner in what should have been a melding of the disparate strengths of two commanding artists.
Starker seemed particularly ungenerous with emotional nuance and variety of tone, whipping speedily, sometimes perfunctorily through three core components of the repertory: Brahms’ Sonata in E minor, the Debussy Sonata, and Beethoven’s Opus 69. Pressler offered consistently polished work, but with only a fraction of the dynamism we expect of him.
Still, there were rewards in encountering the Brahms sonata in such an uncluttered reading as theirs, and the notes, if not all the mysteries, were for once projected in Debussy’s elusive work, which Starker executed with sovereign control.
Rhythmic acuity and lack of affection were not enough, however, in Beethoven’s sonata, which demands a more heroic stance, more drama and weight of tone than was encountered on this occasion.