Cellist Sharon Robinson is a performer for all reasons, though prominent among them are the aims of the Pro Musicis Foundation. Wednesday evening, she opened the Pro Musicis series in Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
She is also a musician of wide, though seemingly calculated, variety. Her generous program touched many bases in a very polished, controlled style.
Tucked among standard repertory, Robinson included two local premieres. Ned Rorem's Dances for cello and piano form an almost neo-Baroque suite, neatly structured individually and as a group. Ever the happy miniaturist, Rorem plays with cross-rhythms and idiomatic coloristic effects, setting graceful tunes in his own brand of extended tonality.
Leonard Bernstein's Three Meditations, arranged from his "Mass," share much the same harmonic orientation as Rorem's Dances, some bits of alienated chittering notwithstanding. But the Meditations are much more jagged in melodic profile, more fragmentary in impulse and thoroughly somber in character.
Robinson gave both works rapt, apt readings. She put her fingers down with fleet precision, shaped lines carefully and never allowed the emotion of the moment to interrupt or deflect her musical purposes.
If only she had--just occasionally. Somehow it all sounded rather studied; practice makes perfect, but too perfect can make dull.
Pianist Margo Garrett provided Robinson with supple accompaniment, in the intense atmospherics of Bernstein as in the more lyric routines of Rorem. The cooperative ensemble of the pair was as obviously well drilled as their individual efforts.
In Rachmaninoff's Sonata, however, Garrett frequently overpowered Robinson. The Andante was beautifully balanced and sung, with engaging simplicity. But Garrett did little to temper the tempestuous winds of the outer movements to her partner's lean, well-focused but seldom passionate production. Cohesion was occasionally ruffled, as well.
Equilibrium returned in Debussy's Sonata. Robinson put her control to evocative work, particularly in feathery passages of the Serenade. The mercurial shifts in character forced her into a more spontaneous approach, or at least the appearance thereof. At any rate, the performance revealed much of the magic in the work.
Robinson began her program with an oft-arranged Adagio by Alessandro Marcello. Her quiet, finely purled account was dedicated to the late Gabor Rejto, with whom she studied at one time. She closed with Leonard Rose's version of Chopin's "Polonaise Brillante," played with elegant spirit, and a lone encore by Cassado.