After last year’s Piccolo Spoleto presentation of J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites, Natalia Khoma is back this year for another go.
For the first of two concerts Wednesday at First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, she played the first three suites of six. Her interpretations were rich and colorful. Her skill resulted in an expressive performance — layered, dynamic and flexible. Add in her graceful appearance and charm, and you get a memorable afternoon of music-making.
Khoma, a native of Ukraine, is a respected cellist and professor at the College of Charleston. Among her accolades are wins at the Budapest Pablo Casals Competition (1985), the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (1990) and the Belgrade International Cello Competition (1990).
The Bach cello suites were largely unknown until Casals recorded a full version of all six in 1939. They then became a peak that most cellists try to reach at some point in their career.
Unlike Casals’ deep interpretation of the Prelude of Suite No. 1, Khoma’s playing is brisk and absorbing. Her first note in the Menuet, bright, quick and forte, was a potent contrast to the mournful Sarabande. Her clear articulation of the beginning was enhanced by an elastic and elegant quality of melody and sound.
The second suite, in D minor, was darker, even pathetic. The music lingered in her instrument and the sanctuary of the church, notes of endless sadness and gloom. However, the pace in the Allemande was unexpected; she plunged forward at a fast tempo, nevertheless capturing every nuance.
The Courante somehow was even speedier. With greater contrast in volume and pitch in phrases, the emotion became so fierce that when the final crescendo came, you felt the agony and drama falling on the audience. During this suite, Khoma kept wiping perspiration from her head and fixing her hair during the intervals between movements. And her dress strap fell off her shoulder, which seemed to distract her.
After going backstage for a while, Khoma returned to play the third suite, in C major. Her melodic short notes leaped over the fluid bass. The acoustics in First (Scots) Presbyterian Church sometimes blurred the notes, but they also amplified the emotion and immersed the audience in the dynamic sound. Khoma concluded this first program with a nuanced and richly played Gigue. With successive fortes near the end, she ended this journey with an intense and prolonged coda.
The second recital is 3 p.m. Monday, also at First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, 53 Meeting St.
Xiaoran Ding is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.