On Saturday night, May 21, four cellists, all men, played 90 minutes' worth of five Baroque concertos - without intermission, non-stop. In order to stave off fatigue, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which backed the affair, rotated its members in and out from concerto to concerto. Each concerto was a delight, and the packed houses in venerable Bovard Auditorium on the campus of the University of Southern California, with Tommy Trojan protecting the perimeter outside, with a definite sense of the opening scene in the balcony at the concert in The Red Shoes went wild without any shame.
It was the final weekend of the second Gregor Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, honoring a classical music adventurer whose actual life was more incredible than any of the tall tales he told about it.
Saturday night's Baroque hit parade was led by the incomparably elegant, historically-informed (HIP) French stylist Jean-Guihen Queyras, who opened with a D major Concerto by Giovanni Benedetto Platti, increasingly becoming known as a composer of highly diverting cello sonatas and concertos (even though he was an oboist), and closing with CPE Bach's mainstream repertoire Concerto in A Major.
Guihen hardly missed a note throughout the evening and somehow smoothed out as much as humanly possible the notoriously awkward angles and contours of CPE's fast movements, and paid especially deep homage to the music, and to the cello, in the Largo con sordini - with mutes - movement. He improvised the embellishments and decorations all four composers would have expected, all was smoothly in line with the music's core, ingratiating to the music without drawing any attention to himself except for those who already knew the score, and carressing the music from his instrument the way the best HIP players do - their operating principle being if it's coming out hard it's not coming out the right way.
Colin Carr followed in one of the most popular of Vivaldi's concertos, RV 401, in a desolate C minor. It is not a piece that benefits from any particular approach that is not centered on the soloist speaking with their own voice, and this Carr did with a determination to let the music breathe out a bit and not be rushed so that he could let his cello speak. It was a moving interlude that Carr proposed with his flowing lines and noble tone seemingly in direct contact with the music's troubled emotional plaint.
Next up was Thomas Demenga in Boccherini's G Major Concerto, G. 480, which has come to rival the B flat major, either in the original or the bastardized Grützmacher edition Piatigorsky knew, in popularity - the reason being that Grützmacher stole its Adagio, a haunting piece of Baroque beauty similar to the CPE Bach Largo. Demenga played the gorgeous cadenzas Maurice Gendron wrote more than fifty years ago which demonstrated the the continuing legacy of all great cellists at Piatigorsky's Festival.
Representing the future, Giovanni Sollima went way beyond the letter of the HIP movement to explore the most bizarre implications of his own obsession with improvisation in an obscure and moody D minor concerto by Leonardo Leo. In addition to extravagant physical gestures, while wielding a Baroque bow high up on the stick away from the frog, Sollima developed an intimate, occasionally orgiastic, relationship with the music, his cello and the audience
All of which Piatigorsky would have loved. Except for no women.