Andrew Mikhael LLC presents Elizabeth Mikhael and Santiago Piñeirúa
Elizabeth Mikhael, Cello
Santiago Piñeirúa, Piano
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
As an encore performance of a Mexico City concert, cellist Elizabeth Mikhael and pianist Santiago Piñeirúa rejoined forces at Weill Hall on October 15, 2017. In a program of two cello sonatas, one by Brahms and other by Shostakovich, it was to be a triumph for the performers and a treat for the listeners in the packed hall.
As the hall filled, one noticed a large number of young people in attendance, many of whom were elementary school students. I was at first curious about this, as Ms. Mikhael’s printed biographical information did not mention teaching, either privately or with a school. Upon some further investigation, I learned that Ms. Mikhael is on the faculty at the School for Strings in New York. It was heartening to this reviewer to see that Ms. Mikhael’s students were in force to hear their beloved teacher in concert.
Elizabeth Mikhael and Santiago Piñeirúa both have impressive performance histories, complete with numerous awards and crossover collaborations with popular artists. One can learn more about Ms. Mikhael and Mr. Piñeirúa by visiting the following websites: Elizabeth Mikhael and Santiago Piñeirúa (in Spanish).
It was a bit disappointing that there were no program notes offered. Even the brief information that was listed at the Carnegie Hall website about the two works would have been helpful to offer some insights to the layperson. When one also considers that Shostakovich’s music almost always had some important autobiographical context, it seems that the opportunity to make his Sonata even more accessible to the listener was lost.
Ms. Mikhael and Mr. Piñeirúa took the stage to the roaring cheers of the audience. Complete with yelling, whistling, and stamping feet, this is something one is more likely to encounter at a sports event than a concert hall. Normally this reviewer finds such behavior a sign of lack of familiarity with “concert manners,” but in this case it seemed just a very demonstrative display of affection.
Brahms’s Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38 opened the concert. Brahms entitled it Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello with the intent that the piano is not merely a background accompanist, but a full and equal partner. Completed in 1865, the sonata is Brahms’s homage to J. S. Bach, and uses material from Contrapunctus 4 and 13 of The Art of Fugue. It is this work that is the source of a famous little story. A cellist friend was playing this work with Brahms at the piano. Brahms was playing so loudly that his partner remarked he could not hear his cello. “Lucky for you!” was Brahms’s reply! All fun aside, there was no danger of a re-enactment of this story. This Brahms was a delight for the reviewer, who had the rare pleasure of being able to sit back and enjoy a first-rate performance from these fine musicians. It was a twenty-five-minute journey through some of the finest music Brahms wrote, handled with polish and expertise by both players.
Ms. Mikhael has a warm, full-bodied tone. Her intonation was impeccable throughout, and she invests her considerable talents in the music, rather than in histrionic gestures or exaggerated musical extravagances. Her rapport with Mr. Piñeirúa was noteworthy as well.
After intermission, the duo offered Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40. Written in 1934 during a time of separation from his first wife Nina, it is filled with many of Shostakovich’s characteristic compositional traits – the somber character, the fluid shifts of tonality, mock ebullience, and frenzied energy. The duo captured all these elements with skill in a completely engaging performance. The audience was wowed by the brilliant finale, with its helter-skelter gusto, but this listener, though thoroughly enjoying the finale, is going to single out the Largo as not only his favorite of the work, but the highlight of the evening. The desolate beauty of the music was projected by Ms. Mikhael in a way that was heartbreaking. This was real artistry!
One would be remiss if not giving the proper respect to Mr. Piñeirúa. He was the ideal collaborator who not only blended seamlessly with Ms. Mikhael, but also handled these difficult works with an understated assurance. He was a star in his own right.
After the final notes the audience shouted and stomped even longer and louder than at the opening with an extended standing ovation. After two encores and the presenting of many bouquets of flowers, the two performers took their leave to the continued cheers of the audience.