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Cellist opens invigorating concert series at Old South



Paul Marleyn, cello.

Judith Gordon, piano.

Free Recital at the Old South Church.

Sunday, February 19.


THE OLD SOUTH CHURCH launched a bold new Sunday afternoon concert series last weekend. And if the opener was any indication, this will be one of the most invigorating series of instrumental recitals to hit town in recent memory. Free weekly recitals will feature such disparate genres as big band and jazz, large- and small-scale classical, as well as some titillating miscellany (such as the NEC Brass Players and the Perkins School for the Blind Handbell Festival). Surely something for everyone, and at no cost, the price is certainly right.

Last Sunday's recital, which, incidentally, featured a subset of the works performed at Jordan Hall on Feb. 9 by the same artists, showcased cellist Paul Marleyn and pianist Judith Gordon. Works of Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Martinu were given attractive, precise readings, imbued at all times with extraordinary insight for such youthful performers.

Presented without intermission, Sunday's concert began with the second of Beethoven's cello sonatas, Opus 5. While Marleyn and Gordon played with near-perfectly fused ensemble, their stylistic approaches differed. While Gordon's playing came off as strongly romantic, Marleyn's rendition seemed more formalistic and at times bordered on the detached. While most of Beethoven's music certainly affords both classical and romantic interpretations, a lack of interpretive unity in performance tends to detract from an audience's ability to understand the intended statement. All things considered, however, the overall effect was one of abundant energy, vigor, and clarity.

The next offering, Shostakovich's remarkable Cello Sonata in G Minor, Opus 40, was nothing short of exemplary. Immersed in power, poignancy, and pyrotechnics, both performers demonstrated considerable talents in a performance which dried mouths and elevated spirits. Now uplifting and ethereal, now pesante and declarative, Marleyn and Gordon brought the house down with a dramatic reading of a work which exists in polytonal spheres every bit as much as tonal and atonal ones. Cries of "Bravo!" at performance's end were certainly well-deserved.

Foregoing intermission after such a work as this was imprudent. Martinu's Variations on a Theme of Rossini smacked of "encorism" -- Marleyn performed without score, Gordon with. It was a bit much to ask of those in attendance to come down from the surreal, mystical planes of Shostakovich for the sake of a work which can only be described as "merry." The piece being quite short, though, Martinu's ineffable good humor had little difficulty hitting its mark. Marleyn seemed to revert to his early stoicism, but here it came off like a dead-pan stand-up comic delivering a wry joke, rather than as unintended reserve. A wonderful afternoon of music, without question. And by the look of the list of scheduled 1989 offerings [The George W. Russel Trio appears on Feb. 26 at 4pm], it's only the beginning.