Cellist Mark Kosower

Cleveland-Orchestra-Principal-Cellist-Mark-Kosower-with-pianist-Jee-Won-Oh-1494350654By Scott MacClelland

AFTER TUESDAY NIGHT’S banquet of Brahms sonatas by cellist Mark Kosower at Hidden Valley, in Carmel Valley, I find it hard to square his brilliance with the current crop of cello superstars. He is altogether their equal as a solo concert artist and, despite less than a household or marquis name, ought to be right up there in their lights.

Now forty, and a scant generation younger than the pack but five years beyond the highly-anointed Alisa Weilerstein, Kosower—who the program notes said began to study cello at one-and-a-half years of age—has held the position of principal cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra since 2010 and, for four years before that, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in Germany.

The Hidden Valley recital kicked off the annual weeklong Kosower masterclass that, this year, attracted 14 advanced students from China, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, Maryland, and seven from California. The concert also pulled in a large crowd of local musicians and music lovers.

Kosower and his bold keyboard partner, Korea-born Jee-Won Oh—is that love or what?—plan to record the program next month in Hannover, Germany. It, the program, included the two cello sonatas, in E Minor, Op 38 and F, Op 99, plus the violin sonata, Op 78, in a transcription to D from the original G, by Paul Klengel.

I mention the latter because the sensitive ear gets a different feeling from the two different keys—and the difference of character between violin and cello—and because someone during the interval expressed a preference for the original. Either works equally well for me, but frankly, I find the finale of Op 78 a letdown into academic noodling after the first two artistically inspired movements—a bête-noire that pesters the final movements of more than a few of Brahms’ most celebrated works. (Of course, I will be accused of elitism by those who need an excuse. This is after all the Age of Trump.)

These three works all clocked in at an average 28 minutes, and Kosower’s instrument, a Bernardo Calcagni (Calcanius) from 18th century Genoa, spoke with rare clarity of speech as it sang large with warmth of soul. ‘Twas a feast by any reckoning and rightly inspired a cheering ovation that inspired an encore of demonic virtuosity, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s variations on “Figaro” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Such was its bristle that I found myself musing on the bizarre scene from The Witches of Eastwick when Susan Sarandon’s cello catches fire.