Mark Kosower cello recital

By Dana Abbott

THE CAPACITY AUDIENCE at the Hidden Valley concert by cellist Mark Kosower and pianist Jee-Won Oh discovered from the onset that a special evening would ensue. The program opened with Beethoven’s  Seven Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen,” Mozart’s short but touching praise of love between a man and his wife from The Magic Flute. An elegant, inventive expansion of Mozart’s simple tune, the early Beethoven 1801 cello piano duet is fresh, masterful and approachable, the gift of the composer’s abundant and fertile imagination. The performance summoned all its allure with glittering polish. 

The Cello Sonata in G Minor by Gabriel Fauré was likewise played in refined partnership, its fast moving harmonies and the lamentation qualities in the second movement well-defined. Fauré had been commissioned to write an elegy commemorating the 100th anniversary in 1921 of the death of Napoleon. In this performance the partnership of Kosower and Oh was displayed in each partner’s sensitivity to the other’s playing and their effortless fit and finish. Oh’s ability to manage varying layers and intricacies of background piano accompaniment and to bring forth rich, yet not overbearing tone when taking the lead, was obvious. According to the program notes, their partnership extends to recording projects. One could see why.

Kosower closed the first half of the concert with his adaptation for solo cello of Bach’s solo violin Partita No. 1 in B Minor. He talked briefly about using this piece to take Bach out of the concert venue into other places within the community, reaching audiences that might not otherwise encounter it. He defined the piece as eight short movements in a repeating pattern, with each of the four core movements, based on dance forms of Bach’s time—Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Bourrée—followed by a “Double” with expanded chord progressions presenting “even greater difficulty.” Kosower’s almost effortless mastery of his instrument was front and center. In total, the piece was not short, but the cellist’s command of the unending yet controlled avalanche of notes and musical figures was stunning. The audience responded with enthusiasm. 

After intermission, Kosower and Oh played Piece for Cello and Piano, Op 39, from 1897, the last published work of Ernest Chausson, a minor French composer, owing in part to his methodical and self-critical mindset. His style is a clear transition from Saint-Saëns, Chabrier and César Franck of late 19th century French music to Fauré, Debussy and Ravel of the early 20th century. Though perhaps the slightest piece on the program, it was evidence of Kosower’s wide-ranging musical interests and a memento of Chausson’s career, cut short by a fatal bicycle accident at age 44.

The dominant piece of the concert’s second half was Benjamin Britten’s Sonata in C, Op 65 written in 1961, one of several pieces resulting from Britten’s meeting Mstislav Rostropovich. The sonata is a rich, demanding piece, with a pizzicato second movement, an elegiac slow movement, and two short but hard-driven final movements. One could say that Britten summons a rich panoply of cellist tricks for his performer. Kosower met the challenge, including using his left hand to move a mute into place while sustaining an open-string double-stop with his bow arm in the elegy. The Marcia-energico was just that, brief and modern in musical substance. The finale, a presto in perpetual motion suggested Shostakovich and ended with a rich, complex multi-rhythmic figure which brought a satisfied, triumphant smile from both performers.

The concert closed with a Russian dance, a Gopak from Modest Mussorgsky, set for piano and cello, bright and playful, a refined partnership between partners. Kosower’s program was remarkably generous in polished musicality, a fitting close to Hidden Valley’s summer Masters’ Festival series. Attendees were richly rewarded and rewarded in kind.