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If the goal of the La Jolla Music Society’s “Discovery Series” is to present highly promising young performers, Sunday’s (January 26) recital by cellist Kian Soltani and pianist Julio Elizalde made the best possible case for that premise. Their fiery but uncannily polished performance of Stravinsky, Beethoven, Pärt, and Franck thrilled the substantial afternoon crowd at the Baker-Baum Concert Hall.

Kian Soltani [photo (c.) Juventino Mateo]

I was immediately taken by the 27-year-old Soltani’s electric account of the Stravinsky Suite Italienne for Piano and Cello that opened their program. His lean, supple tone propelled each deftly delineated phrase of this neo-classical gem with an unswerving sense of purpose, an approach keenly paralleled by Elizalde at the piano. Their ferocious ostinatos in the “Tarantella” movement, for example, displayed a keen musical intuition that transcended their easily laudable technical prowess.

The duo treated Beethoven’s three-movement Sonata for Pianoforte and Cello in A Major, Op. 69, like an exalted conversation, lending an improvisatorial exuberance to their antiphonal exposition of the composer’s rich thematic vocabulary. Although Soltani’s deft articulation and suave phrasing infused this sonata with the grace and power the composer intended, his slightly muted, darker sonority in the midrange—where Beethoven tends to keep the cello in this work—made the pianist work harder keep his part from overpowering the cello. We had to wait until the Cesar Franck A Major Sonata in the program’s second half to experience Soltani’s brighter, more incisive timbre, especially in the cello’s upper range.

Julio Elizalde [photo courtesy of La Jolla Music Society]

The Franck sonata, originally written for violin and piano and transcribed shortly after the composer’s death by the French cellist Jules Delsart, is one of the great 19th-century solo sonatas. A master of improvisation at the organ console, Franck knew how to take a rich theme through variation and transformation and, by employing his keen sense of structure, bring that original theme back at the finale with compelling satisfaction. If Elizalde unleashed the piano’s brilliance at the opening of the arresting second movement “Allegro,” Soltani saw him and raised him, although in the “Recitativo” of the following movement, the cellist countered with a hushed ecstasy that was nothing short of ravishing. The duo’s rhapsodic finale was burnished with Elizalde’s dramatic orchestral sweep.

Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres,” one of the contemporary Estonian composer’s more popular chamber works, alternated between Soltani’s urgent, rapid ostinatos and Elizalde’s ethereal, bell-like piano chords. Although their approach proved more vibrant than I have heard “Fratres” played, it still communicated the composer’s intense, austere spirituality.

Their encore was Rachmaninoff’s slow movement from his Sonata for Piano and Cello.

This program was presented by the La Jolla Music Society on January 26, 2020, in the Baker-Baum Concert Hall of the society’s Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in downtown La Jolla, California.

Ken Herman

Ken Herman

Ken Herman, a classically trained pianist and organist, has covered music for the San Diego Union, the Los Angeles Times' San Diego Edition, and for sandiego.com. He has won numerous awards, including first place for Live Performance and Opera Reviews in the 2017, the 2018, and the 2019 Excellence in Journalism Awards competition held by the San Diego Press Club. A Chicago native, he came to San Diego to pursue a graduate degree and stayed.Read more…

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