Cellist Orfeo Mandozzi and pianist Lily Maisky performed cello sonatas by Beethoven, Brahms and Shostakovich Thursday night, May 19, at the Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall.  The duo began their ambitious program with Beethoven’s third sonata (op 69) for this pair of instruments.

This work is a product of Beethoven’s mature middle period. The piano has as important a part as the cello. There is a lot of contrapuntal interchange between the two instruments in the first movement. The scherzo features the syncopation typical of much of Beethoven’s work.

The first half of the program concluded with Brahms’ first cello sonata, op 38 in e minor. The work is dedicated to Josef Gänsbacher, a singing professor and amateur cellist. Brahms and Gänsbacher performed the sonata before a private audience. The story goes that Brahms played so loudly that Gänsbacher complained that he could not hear his cello at all – “Lucky for you, too” was Brahms response. The composer’s decibel output did not diminish. The principal themes of the sonata’s first and third movements based on Contrapunctus 4 and 13 of Bach’s The Art of Fugue.

The scheduled part of the recital concluded with Shostakovich’s cello sonata in d minor. This is an early work written in 1934 just before the composer’s first run in with the Soviet dictators of artistic merit. The first movement starts peacefully and almost, for a short time, is reminiscent of Brahms but Shostakovich’s unique musical persona soon emerges. The wild scherzo is the composer at his frenzied best. There were three brief encores.

Ms Maisky (the 24 year old daughter of famed cellist Mischa Maisky) played with flair and brilliance with the exception of two smudged notes at the end of the first movement of the Beethoven. She seems a fine artist; there’s one small problem she should deal with. She has very long hair and it keeps falling in front of her face. This appears to bother her. She brushes it away every few seconds. A clip or two appropriately placed would solve this problem.

Mandozzi has a pleasing stage persona and plays with considerable technical skill, but he has occasional intonation problems and sometimes blurs some passages. His performance, however, was very well received by the audience which filled about 75% of the auditorium’s seats. The Weill’s acoustics are excellent and the small hall is perfect for chamber music.

The pair gave a passionate reading of the Brahms first movement and reached the appropriate level of abandon during the 2nd and 4th movements of the Shostakovich. In summary, a very good performances of three masterpieces.