On the evening of Oct. 21, prominent Canadian cellist Cameron Crozman visited Lawrence for a recital in Harper Hall. Canadian radio network CBC Music described Crozman as “Canada’s next big cello star.” He has performed recitals and chamber music across Canada and the USA as well as Europe, though this Monday was his debut in Wisconsin.
Crozman opened with “Bach’s Third Suite” for Cello Solo, commenting that, like for many young cellists, it was the first he had learned. He then juxtaposed the classic with a more contemporary piece: “Suite No. 3” for Solo Cello by Benjamin Britten. Crozman explained that Britten is a 21st century composer most well-known for his operas, but has also written three suites for solo cello with a crazy story behind them: Britten was driving in the English countryside with Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and decided to stop to see some friends who happened to be distantly related to the English royal family. Rostropovich inquired if they should be greeted with any special formality, but upon Britten’s insistence to the contrary, he began to joke about greeting them with an elaborate curtsy and insisted the only way to stop him was for Britten to promise to write him a solo cello suite. Miraculously, Britten kept this bizarre promise. Crozman then told the audience Britten himself never recorded the third suite, and the story goes that this is because he could not get to the end without bursting into tears. The emotional aspects of the piece have a lot to do with its structure: it synthesizes several Russian themes including three arrangements of folksongs by Tchaikovsky. The structure itself is unique, featuring “reverse variations” ultimately leading up to the Russian Hymn for the Dead.
Crozman embodied the dynamic piece as a full body performance, from the smooth opening “Lento” movement interspersed with deep pizzicatos reminiscent of a funeral drum to the intense “Allegro” section full of heavy, off the string strokes. He fully gratified the range of the piece, from sweet, light, airy melodies to haunting harmonics and strong, dense sections full of weight.
Returning from intermission after a dramatic finish to Britten’s third suite, Crozman promised a more uplifting second half, showcasing pieces mostly from Spain and Italy. He opened with the new-age Italian piece Canto for Cello Solo by still-living composer Ludovico Einaudi. He then moved on to something he joked every cellist is familiar with: “Caprice,” by Alfredo Piatti. Because of its popularity, he commented that he didn’t really know why he decided to play it, but facetiously speculated it was character-building for him.
Crozman continued with the 17th century Spanish piece “Ricercari” for solo cello by Domenico Gabrielli, numbers one, three and six. The piece was written at a time of transition for cello; in that region of Italy the strings had recently been wound differently for greater versatility and quicker response. The piece is a celebration of this newfound possibility and takes advantage of it as it moves from solemn, mellow sections to bright, forward moving melodies ringing with momentum.
The final piece of the night was connected to Crozman’s instrument, the 1769 Johannes Guillami cello on loan to him for three years from the Canada Council. The piece, “Suite for Cello Solo” was written by Catalan composer Gaspar Cassado, student of renowned cellist Pablo Casals. The Spanish piece was an ornamented and intense finale, thick with dense harmonies propelling the piece forward.
Crozman concluded his performance by informing the audience his albums are available as CDs, though joked that they’re probably obsolete in that form. But don’t worry, if you no longer have your portable CD player from elementary school, his albums “Cavatine” and “Britten: Suites pour le violoncelle” are also available for streaming on Spotify and YouTube.