By Lawrence Budmen

Pablo Casals (1876-1973) revolutionized the cello as a solo instrument. The great Catalan cellist brought a new level of virtuosity and depth to this dark toned string instrument. (Casals was also a superb conductor and a talented composer. He was an artist of the highest moral principle. Casals refused to perform in countries that recognized Spain's fascist government of Francisco Franco.) In the 1920's Casals revived the six suites for solo cello of Johann Sebastian Bach. These groundbreaking works had not been performed in over a century. Cellists of an earlier generation (if they were at all familiar with Bach's suites) considered these works to be unplayable and musically dull and academic. With his vibrant, invigorating performances (and recordings) Casals proved that all Bach's scores needed was an interpreter of daring musical imagination and formidable technical accomplishment. (Casals's recordings of the Bach suites, Dvorak's Cello Concerto, and the bogus Boccherini Cello Concerto set the standard by which all future performances would be judged.) The brilliant young cellist Claudio Bohorquez was the winner of the Pablo Casals International Cello Competition in 2000. Casals's Gofriller cello is now Bohorquez's instrument. Bach's "Suite No.3 in C Major," BWV 1009 was the centerpiece of Bohorquez's stellar recital on August 12 at Coral Gables Congregational Church. In the tradition of Casals, Bohorquez proved to be an artist of incomparable magnitude. 

From the first notes of the Prelude, Bohorquez brought spirited intensity, impeccable technique, and a deeply personal approach to Bach's music. Where other performances tend to be mere technical approximations of Bach's musical notations, Bohorquez transformed the score into an unforgettable artistic experience - a journey that transcended Baroque style to create something new and striking. Bohorquez's aristocratic phrasing of the Allemande reawakened the music's dance rhythms. His broad, elegantly sculptured approach to the Sarabande produced one of those rare moments when time seemed transfixed - a performance of truly spiritual sublimity! The subtle grace of the Courante and the beautifully elongated line of the two Bourrees were the hallmark of a musician of rare artistry! The Rococo verve of the concluding Gigue was utterly infectious in Bohorquez's masterful hands. Like the German cellist Christoph Henkel's performance of Bach's "Suite No.1" at the Sarasota Music Festival in June, this was music making worthy of the master Casals himself! An eloquent, otherworldly performance of a musical treasure! (This superb version of the Bach suite was dedicated to the memory of the late Miami Herald music critic James Roos.) 

Bohorquez's playing was just as magical in the very different musical milieu of Claude Debussy's "Sonata for Cello and Piano." While Debussy (1862-1918) was the ultimate creative embodiment of French musical Impressionism, in his later years he embraced exoticism and mainstream European modernism. The Cello Sonata is one of his last completed works. Debussy was enthralled by the premiere (at the Diaghelev Ballet Russe) of Mikhail Fokine's ballet "Scheherazade" (set to the Rimsky-Korsakov score). His artistic response was the adoption of Oriental and Islamic chants in the Cello Sonata. Arabesques (the varied repetition of one note) are subtly woven into the tapestry of this path breaking score which still sounds thoroughly contemporary today. The music abounds with surprises. Thematic fragments end abruptly or are succeeded by unrelated material. Phrases lead to complex, surprising turns and developments. The score's harmonics are boldly dissonant. Debussy's solo writing challenges the very limits of the cellist's technique. Bohorquez attacked the astringent Prologue with incredible speed and energy - unabashed bravura playing. His delicately plucked version of the Serenade conjured up a magical landscape (in both musical and literary terms). The richness of tone that Bohorquez brought to the darting leaps of the Finale held the audience mesmerized in Debussy's exotic trance. His brilliant rendition of the high lying writing (played close to the instrument's bridge) was the final icing on an extraordinary performance. Bohorquez's sonata partner was no less than the brilliant pianist Tao Lin. This gifted virtuoso has been impressive in numerous solo and chamber music appearances in South Florida. He brought subtle pianistic colors and fleet fingered panache to Debussy's magnum chamber opus. A riveting performance of a 20th century masterwork! 

The full blown Romanticism of Johannes Brahms's "Sonata for Cello and Piano in E Minor," Opus 38 (circa1862-1865) brought forth a performance of fierce abandon and impassioned eloquence from Bohorquez and Lin. The opening theme of the Allegro non troppo was shaped with bracing intensity by Bohorquez. Lin's realization of the calming second theme had wonderful pastoral elegance. Unlike most performers, Bohorquez and Lin took the exposition repeat - allowing Brahms's music to speak in all its spacious glory. What wonderful contrasting melancholy the two artists brought to the Trio, in contrast to the gracefully shaped Allegretto quasi Menuetto. Bohorquez's dark well of burnished tone in the concluding Allegro was the very essence of Brahms. A vibrant, deeply felt performance of one of the landmarks of musical Romanticism! 

Bohorquez and Lin opened the concert with an authentic 19th century rarity - Robert Schumann's "Funf Stuke im Volkston," Opus 102. This five movement suite - composed in 1849 - transverses a variety of genres and musical idioms. Bohorquez and Lin found the gracious wit in the folk like opening movement Mit humor. The intense yearning of the second and third sections (Langsam and Nicht schnell) found expressive voice in Bohorquez's glorious cello tones. The wonderfully understated classicism of the musicians' realization of the Nicht zu rasch movement brought new life to the music. The unbridled, darkly ruminative passion of the Stark und markiert finale brought intense, exuberant playing from the Bohorquez-Lin duo. For his encore, Bohorquez offered a chestnut of the cello repertoire - "The Swan" from "Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saens. His performance was refreshingly unsentimental. Adopting a faster than usual tempo, Bohorquez played the vignette as one long soaring musical space rather than a series of broken musical paragraphs. The beautiful phrasing and singing line of Bohorquez's playing made this most familiar of cello pieces sound freshly minted, new, and alive! 

Claudio Bohorquez is that rarity among young musicians - a technically fluent, imaginative, patrician artist. (He is scheduled to return to Miami to perform Dvorak's great Cello Concerto with the New World Symphony under Hans Graf on November 6 and 7, 2004.) Every score he plays is infused with a uniquely personal interpretive stamp. An unforgettable evening of great music making!

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