Sonia Wieder-Atherton: Go East, young cellist

sonia-wieder-atherton-5Watching Sonia Wieder-Atherton play is like watching Rudolf Nureyev dance. Her instrument is as much a part of her body as her arms or legs, and she makes it sing in a way that would seem impossible from anyone else. In her second U.S. recital, the French cellist transported (Le) Poisson Rouge to Russia and Mitteleuropa in an enjoyable, if not all-too-brief concert.

Featuring selections from her new release on Nave, Chants d'Est, the evening was a journey of a program, including music by Bartk, Janacek, Dohnnyi and Prokofiev interspersed with traditional Jewish music and Tatar dances. Wieder-Atherton lends a new voice to those left in a diaspora after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, reviving their musical mother tongues. Her allegros are vivacious, at times even ballsy; her softer moments are hushed and reverent, and in those moments you could see the audience lean in to hear every breath.

Though celebrating her solo-recording debut, this was also a night of collaboration between Wieder-Atherton and the newly formed Niguna Ensemble (niguna being the Hebrew word for improvisation). The looks thrown between soloist and ensemble indicated the deeply rooted fusion between all players, particularly oboist Anne Chamussy. The one woodwind on a stage full of strings shone in the traditional Jewish Song on the Memory of Schubert and Bartk's Four Duets for oboe and cello, from his monolithic Mikrokosmos.

One of the hallmarks of Russian culture is the idea of dusha-dushe ("soul-to-soul")—an intimate conviviality generally brought on by a few glasses of vodka. Libations aside, it was a pleasure sharing a moment of soul-to-soul with Wider-Atherton and her ensemble. We hope to do it again very soon.