CD Review: Toronto Symphony cellist Winona Zelenka makes all the right connections


Winona Zelenka performs J.S. Bach at the Sharon Temple on Sunday at 2 p.m. (Elaine Ling photo).

WINONA ZELENKA & CONNIE SHIH
Connections (Marquis)

Despite being a full-time member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, ex-principal cellist Winona Zelenka pursues other solo and collaborative work with an uncommon intensity. The latest product of her wide-ranging interests is a beautiful album of French music that straddles the 19th and 20th centuries, recorded with Canadian pianist Connie Shih.

The title of the album comes from the interrelationships between the four composers on the programme — Claude Debussy, Ernest Chausson, Gabriel Fauré and César Franck. But, despite the various levels and types of links between these four men, the four pieces  Zelenka chose are very different.

Debussy’s Sonata No. 1 is about contrasting colours and atmospheres. Chausson’s Pièce is a sweet confection with a long, gorgeous arc, much like one of the composer’s finer mélodies. Papillon, by Fauré, is a gossamer technical study. Frank’s four-movement Sonata for Cello and Piano is a monument of classical structure.

The whole makes for a satisfyingly textured programme that allows both cellist and pianist to show off their elegant musicianship. Zelenka teases a seemingly infinite range of sounds from her bow, and both artists display a deceptively easy virtuosity.

I would personally have liked to hear a bit more bite from the Franck Sonata, but that would contradict Zelenka and Shih’s careful commitment to the light, singing style that is considered to the the hallmark of French music from this period.

This record very much deserves to be on any cello lover’s playlist.

The release date for the disc is still pending. For more information, click here.

Note that Zelenka performs at the second of four Music at Sharon concerts on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The gorgeous wooden neoclassical temple erected by the Children of Peace couldn’t be a more perfect setting for Zelenka’s interpretation of three Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by J.S. Bach (Nos 1, 3 & 6). it should create a beautiful world of musical and visual proportion, augmented by the pastoral setting outside the tall, narrow windows.

For details, click here.

Here is Zelenka playing the Sarabande from Suite No. 5, courtesy of CBC Music:

For an idea of what Chausson’s Op. 39 Pièce sounds like, here are Spanish musicians Spanish Radio Television Orchestra cellist Javier Albarés Alberca and pianist Javier Estebarán Crespo:

John Terauds

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