Mischa Maisky in Santa Barbara


Mischa Maisky astonishes us with electrifying bravura and otherworldly subtly. At this stage of his career, he is a cello guru and one can’t really criticize the interpretation, no matter if the piece is from the Baroque, Romantic or modern eras - because his playing is more than notes. What Maisky gives us is a sense of tradition in studying with Rostropovich and Piatigorsky and a style that goes right to our heart with unfiltered emotions.

And that’s what came through with daughter Lily, a brilliant soloist in her own right, on a Monday evening concert at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara – where they combined sonatas of Brahms and Shostakovich with delightful arrangements of works by Bach, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Hearing these miniatures alone was reason enough to be there, especially the encore, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise (arranged by Leonard Rose). Maisky’s sound seemed to pierce the earth’s core in a hue of honeysuckle sweetness and spin the poignant melody to magical effect.

These luminaries were presented by the Community Arts Music Association (CAMA) which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in providing Santa Barbara with high-quality, high-end performers and orchestras that have included Horowitz, Heifetz, Rachmaninoff, Van Cliburn, Andre Previn, Joshua Bell and Lang Lang

This performance closed out the CAMA season but there’s more artists to come in October. One could feel a rush of anticipation as Maisky walked on stage to a nearly full house holding a 1720 Montagnana, wearing a judo-style shirt adorned with near shoulder length white hair and began the Adagio from Marcello’s concerto in D minor for oboe, strings and continuo transcribed by Bach and Maisky himself.

Listeners were immediately submerged in a palette of soft, silky pianissimos that seemed to gently twist and turn in continuum from this work to the Largo from Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord, Strings and Continuo No. 5 (transcribed by S. Franco) and Pamina’s Aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Maisky’s own arrangement). The delicacy of his nuances floated above the stratosphere like a hang glider in free fall. It was also obvious that the father-daughter duo played with similar temperament and lyrical expansion.

But the tranquil program openers soon gave way to the Brahms second sonata, Op. 99 – where Maisky dived into the work with volcanic inertia, scattering a glorious assortment of full-bodied sonority throughout the galaxies. He and daughter Lily performed this work as kindred collaborators, delivering lively tempo, sweeping melodicism and ferocious intensity. The Allegro appassionata sizzled with over the top articulation and his big, bold vibrato which knocks your socks off. This is unabashed virtuosity and reminds me of comments he made about playing for Casals as a 25 year-old to which the venerable cellist remarked, “Oh, young man, what you are playing has nothing to do with Bach, but you seem to be so convinced, so it sounds very convincing.” (SFCV, May, 2016)

Now 71 years old, Maisky’s overdrive and aesthetic magnetism are still in full swing and certainly evident in the program’s second half where two transcriptions of Tchaikovsky provided seamless phrasing and a lilting rubato effect in: Autumn Song (October) from The Seasons, (transcribed by Stutschewsky and Thaler) and Valse Sentimentale No. 6 from 6 Pieces, transcribed by Russian cellist Viktor Kubatsky – of whom Shostakovich dedicated his Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 40, the closing work.

Mischa and Lily brought out the work’s sarcastic and desolate qualities to revelatory heights by producing effervescent spurts of articulation in the Allegro, turning the Largo into a soundscape of mysterious dissonance and giving the final movement a sardonic vitality – which included roller coaster passages of scales that Lily just devoured. The performance seemed to tap into the mindset of Shostakovich like no other, which was perhaps due to Maisky’s studies at the Moscow Conservatory with Rostropovich. Certainly I can never listen to the sonata again without using this interpretation as reference.

Kudos to CAMA for bringing Mischa Maisky back to Santa Barbara for another concert.