Cellist embraces Saint-Saens concerto

Alisa Weilerstein
San Diego Union Tribune

French composer Camille Saint-Saens wrote his Cello Concerto in A Minor in 1872. But cellist Alisa Weilerstein played the piece as if it had recently been created just for her.

She gave urgency to the opening whirlwind of eighth notes. She brought sweet-toned intensity to the delicate Allegretto. She was so persuasive that even the finale's overwrought romanticism seemed fitting.

Weilerstein made this a concerto that wasn't merely played but was also deeply felt. As one watched her, it was possible to forget San Diego's fiery tragedy, at least for a little while.

Like pianist Lang Lang and violinist Joshua Bell, Weilerstein represents the group of classical music soloists whose effusive style draws audiences into their performances. With eyes half closed and head thrown back, she favored rapture over refinement, emotion more than elegance.

Occasionally, the effort was audible, as in the concerto's difficult sequence of trills. Yet Weilerstein - who displayed her skills in chamber music at La Jolla Music Society SummerFest in August - was pretty sensational in Saint-Saens, whether soaring through high notes or plunging into sonic depths. Enhancing the performance was the attentive accompaniment of music director Jahja Ling and the San Diego Symphony, who were careful not to overpower her playing.