Looking to widen its cultural footprint in Washington, the S&R Foundation, which usually holds concerts at its historic Evermay mansion in Georgetown, ventured out to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on Friday to present its season opener. Cellist Char Prescott and pianist Ryo Yanagitani squeezed a varied program of Bach, Brahms and Bartok into the Millennium’s one-hour format.
The first 15 minutes belonged to Bach and an elegant account of his Sonata in D, BWV 1028. Yanagitani, still early in his career, might be known for his Chopin, but could the confident musicality on display here perhaps signal a budding Bach player? His right-hand melodies, rippling with a sense of dance in the faster music, and his left-hand bass line possessed both personality and transparency. With Prescott’s lyrical playing entwined (keen to the yearning tone in the Andante), it was all a stylish reminder of a delightful, if somewhat neglected, sonata.
The two musicians also found balance in Brahms’s Second Cello Sonata. The symphonic textures require scrupulous parsing to keep up with the buzz of activity. Brahms sends the cello into the extremes of its ranges, and Prescott’s 1879 Praga instrument sounded particularly satisfying deep in its chocolaty bottom end. The cellist, also a member of the U.S. Marine Band, created tremulous scrims of fog in the opening movement, oscillating on the same low note but using different strings. In the Adagio, Yanagitani’s pearly piano helped Prescott build a quiet song that slowly grew in intensity leading to high pizzicato. Arguably, the pair might have dug deeper into the wildness of Brahms’s passion. That they leaned toward elegance was both legitimate and pleasing.
The concert concluded with Bartok and the kaleidoscope of character, color and off-kilter rhythms found in the Romanian Folk Dances he collected from 1910 to 1912. Although the haunting harmonics of the third dance momentarily got the best of Prescott, she managed to mimic the sound of a lonely village fiddler. A pair of “Fast Dances” capped Bartok’s mini-suite and 60 minutes well spent with two promising young musicians.