Jesus Castro-Balbi

Review: Lev Aronson Festival: Jesus Castro-Balbi | Lev Aronson Legacy | Caruth Auditorium

A Well-Preportioned Cello

Cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi and pianist Gloria Lin present a thoughtful program in the fourth concert of the Lev Aronson Legacy Music Festival.

published Saturday, June 14, 2014

Photo: Courtesy
Jesus Castro-Balbi

Dallas — Again demonstrating the breadth and variety of repertoire for the cello, the Lev Aronson Legacy Music Festival at Southern Methodist University hosted on Thursday a performance by husband and wife duo, Jesús Castro-Balbi (cello) and Gloria Lin (piano).

The evening’s program was beautifully conceived as a cohesive whole, providing balance and proportion rather than simply a string of works. This is much easier to enjoy as a listener than the common grouping of unrelated compositions, or worse, pieces too related. The first of J.S. Bach’s Sonatas for Cembalo and Viola da Gamba (BVW 1027) was well paired with Prokofiev’s masterful Cello Sonata, Op.119 on the first half. The stunning Cello Sonata in F major, Op.6 by Richard Strauss rounded out the program on the second half.

When the audience, accustomed to the silence of a performance hall, is first exposed to sound, their ears are left with an impression of sonic density. Whether the rest of the performance is mostly loud, soft, slow or fast, it is the responsibility of the performer to use this first impression as a medium—a piece of clay—to shape into the eventual object of the performance experience. Or to put it another way, the music performer is painting on the canvas of the linear memories of the audience using a single, long stroke of color (think Etch-A-Sketch). If a musical idea is too repetitive or if a large contrast is not properly prepared, there is an irreparable disconnect between the audience and the music.

From the very beginning of this performance, Castro-Balbi and Lin threaded a musical string from its raw material into a handsome tapestry.

J.S. Bach’s Sonatas for Cembalo and Viola da Gamba date from his years living in Cöthen where he would have had access to a few excellent players, not the least of which was Prince Leopold (his employer) who was proficient at both keyboard and string instruments. The texture of these sonatas consists of three lines of equal importance: one played by the stringed instrument (in tonight’s case, a cello) and the other two played by a keyboard instrument. The challenge of melding two lines of piano with cello was met admirably by the duo. They maintained a dry clarity throughout which served the music well. Especially in the lecture hall acoustics of SMU’s O’Donnell Hall, Castro-Balbi’s minimal vibrato was met agreeably with Lin’s judicious use of pedal. The occasional long-held notes of the cello, naked in simplicity, were masterfully shaped by dynamic synchronized with the harmonic motion of piano’s two lines.

In similar fashion, the Prokofiev sonata was sparse, witty and restrained. Castro-Balbi opened the piece with a warm, vocal tone. From here, he created variety of colors, each conducive to the dramatic unfolding of each passage. Lin was a perfect partner through her anticipating and matching every subtle change made in the cello. Toward the end of the final movement, the overall sound began to push beyond the limits of the acoustic environment. However, the duo’s sensitivity to the music coupled with Prokofiev’s classical proportions generated during the work a slow burning heat which was memorable throughout the intermission.

The Cello Sonata, Op.6 of Richard Strauss was written when he was in his late teens but demonstrates the remarkable talent of this composer. Thematic unity ties the work together which suggests the influence of Beethoven or perhaps Schumann in his compositional thinking. The chordal textures Strauss favors were not flattered by the acoustics of the hall. In many of the louder sections, the piano directly threatened the cello and is some cases covered it completely. This left the listener imagining what could have been in a larger space with a less immediate sound. Aside from this and a few musical disagreements between Lin and Castro-Balbi, the work was presented as a satisfying conclusion to the recital.

The performance we heard this evening can be used as proof that thoughtful programing goes a long way toward the overall enjoyment of music. This sort of consideration for the listeners’ ear draws one into the world of the performance. The Lev Aronson Legacy Festival should be applauded for assembling such quality performances.


» Our review of the first concert, featuring Brian Thornton, Emanuel Borok and Spencer Myer

» Our review of the second concert, featuring cellist Andres Diaz

» Our review of the third concert, featuring Mike Block and the Obscure Dignitaries

» Here is the remaining schedule for the second Lev Aronson Legacy Music Festival. The June 14 recital is in Caruth Auditorium; others are in O'Donnell Hall. Both venues are in the Owens Fine Art Center at SMU. The performance schedule is:

  • 7 p.m. Saturday, June 14: Recital by Ralph Kirshbaum
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A Well-Preportioned Cello
Cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi and pianist Gloria Lin present a thoughtful program in the fourth concert of the Lev Aronson Legacy Music Festival.
by Zachariah Stoughton

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