David Cohen & Olga Sitkovetsky

Cello Sonata in D minor
Sonata in A (transcribed composer from Violin Sonata)
Cello Sonata in D minor, Op.40
Le Grand Tango

David Cohen (cello) &
Olga Sitkovetsky (piano)

Reviewed by: Erwin Hösi

Reviewed: 2 April, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Yehudi Menuhin was quoted on the programme’s front page as considering David Cohen, the Philharmonia Orchestra’s 24-year-old co-principal, as one of the most talented cellists. This recital demonstrated both performers’ considerable abilities as well as poetic and mature qualities.

Debussy’s many-sided Sonata, with its slightly cringe-worthy programme of Pierrot unhappily in love with the moon, the moods spontaneously switched between solemn and facetious narrative poses. Though relatively brief, this music brought out Cohen’s main gift: to be receptive and sympathetic to the mood-swings. And the first of two encores, Paganini’s Variations on one string, highlighted this from a humorous perspective, leaving a thoroughly charming impression of both musicians; Olga Sitkovetsky filled her role nearly perfectly: a firm and powerful touch in solos, and lyrical in accompanying mode. Timing between the two displayed an admirable sense of communication.

The other two sonatas (including Franck’s own transcription of his Violin Sonata) both proved good choices, the tragic undertones of Shostakovich’s work giving a sumptuous sample of the cello’s possibilities. In the Franck, opened by the piano’s elegiac solo pianist, Cohen soon took over with his ‘gently weeping’ cello. The technical challenges of the Allegro presented Cohen with the chance to present his singing line; even the violent trills on the lowest string were performed with gentleness and elegance. The slow movement was the dreamily, melancholic highpoint. With Cohen resting his head on the cello’s corpus, the finale became emotionally charged, the audience holding their breaths for five long seconds after the last chord.

With Shostakovich’s Sonata the evening took a somewhat wilder turn, introducing elements of Russian folklore in the second and last movements as well as deep gloom in the Largo. The first movement was performed with sensitivity for the piece’s structuring and, as in the Debussy, for the varying moods. The second movement, one of the more folksy parts of this piece, found the two musicians grooving congenially along. Cohen produced some immaculate flageolet slides.

One of Astor Piazzolla’s finest attempts at introducing Tango into classical music, the Grand Tango of 1982 closed the evening. As the programme states, this “tour de force in style and technique requires an impeccable sense of rhythm in the first section, sensuality in the second section and ardent passion in the powerful finale”. All requirements were richly met.

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