Dallas — Several prominent cellists were featured in recitals this year as part of the Lev Aronson Legacy Festival. One of these was Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Brant Taylor. Taylor was a student of János Starker, and shared that Starker and Lev Aronson, for the 1948-1949 season, shared the first stand in the cello section of the Dallas Symphony. Starker then left to become principal cello in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, while Aronson stayed with the DSO until leaving in 1967 to become the cello professor at Baylor University.
This little bit of history aside, Taylor is a wonderfully gifted cellist who gave listeners a marvelously diverse program on June 11. The recital began with Bach’s Sonata in G Major for Gamba; these sonatas translate beautifully to the modern cello. The modern piano, however, in this case was another matter. Pianist Juan Vizcarra had the piano on the short stick; it was still much too loud, almost painfully so on occasion. This was a serious detraction from an otherwise enjoyable performance.
The Britten Suite for (solo) Cello, Op. 72, was thus a welcome respite. Here, Taylor demonstrated his impeccable intonation and spellbinding bow control, as well as resonant pizzicato in the entirely plucked “Serenata” movement. The movement marked “Bordone” (or “drone”) indeed features a drone note on the open D string sustained while the cellist performs virtuosic feats of left hand pizzicato and bowed notes on strings higher and lower than the drone. This is where Taylor really wowed us. The sustained D was absolutely consistent, not varying in dynamic or timbre, as Taylor seemed to play above and below the drone with astonishing skill.
After intermission, Juan Vizcarra once again collaborated with Taylor on the Debussy Sonata for Cello and Piano. This time, the piano lid was completely open, and while the piano was still overly loud, the balance was not quite as problematic as is had been for the Bach.
In the final piece on the program, the “Rhapsodia Concertante” by twentieth-century Croatian composer Boris Papandopulo, the collaborative pianist was Danny Zelibor. His lighter approach created a more appealing balance. It was also delightful to make a new musical discovery—while the other composers and pieces must have been old friends for the cellists in the audience, this piece, at least to me, was a novelty. With its Eastern harmonies and character, it proved a fun way to end a recital by a truly outstanding cellist.
» Read our review of Mike Block at the Lev Aronson Legacy Festival