Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cleveland Plain Dealer: 'Cellist Tahira Whittington journeys boldly in solo recital'

[Tahira Whittington]

Published: Sunday, December 12, 2010
“The Sphinx Organization has been promoting diversity in classical music since Aaron Dworkin founded his brainstorm in Detroit in 1996.” “The first-place winner of the 1999 competition was cellist Tahirah Whittington, who’s since been busy on many continents in a variety of musical endeavors. She made a stop Saturday at Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Center Studio Theatre to give a solo recital on the Signature Series, hosted by composer Jeffrey Mumford.

“Whittington is a smart programmer and poised, eloquent artist. The works she played Saturday tested her command of the cello even as they ventured far and wide in expressive contour. Several aspects of Whittington’s playing are immediately striking. Her sound is focused and warm, and she hones in on the center of pitches in every register. But beyond these attributes, Whittington knows how to project the essence of the music with direct and sensitive assurance. Although an entire evening of solo pieces might seem limited in color and style, Whittington chose such disparate music that each score came across with a distinctive profile.

She opened with a piece by cellist-composer Carlo Alfredo Piatti, who wrote a set of caprices that explore the instrument’s possibilities. Whittington made a trenchant thing of the Caprice, Op. 25, No. 2 (Andante religioso), shaping the ardent phrases and technical challenges in boldly delineated lines. The program’s most expansive score, Britten’s Suite No. 1, Op. 72, comprises nine movements written for the composer’s favorite cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. The music ranges from brooding oration to dance-like gestures (left-hand pizzicatos, like a guitar) and filigreed material above drones.

“Whittington maintained intensity throughout the collection, lightening or darkening her sound and making discreet use of vibrato to highlight nuances. It’s an absorbing work that the cellist gave noble treatment. The shorter pieces on the second half took Whittington to all sorts of musical destinations. In his 'revisiting variazioni elegiaci…once more,' Mumford sets the cello on a mercurial journey full of furious and ethereal inventiveness. Dolores White’s 'Cremant (Sparkling Wine),' part of a three-movement suite, leans more toward the temperamental than the effervescent, its passionate phrases hinting of Latino sources. Syncopated figures are the motivating factor in Diane Monroe’s arresting 'Heartbeat Blues,' originally for violin.

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