Sergey Antonov is a cellist for the ages. Hailed in his early 20’s as “a brilliant cellist” by no less than Mstislav Rostropovich, he has blossomed into an artist of great warmth and musical brilliance. With the outstanding pianist Ilya Kazantsev, Antonov gave a recital of late romantic music on Sunday at First Church in Boston. This was worth coming in out of the sunshine for.
One of the youngest awardees of the prestigious Tchaikovsky medal in Moscow, Antonov plays with near technical perfection and a fully mature sense of line. He is passionate or delicate where required, emotional without being sentimental, and generally just beautiful. Kazantsev matches his style perfectly, a full partner, not overpowering, but complementary. His own credentials are equally impressive: winner of the Nadia Reisenberg Piano Award with a sold out solo debut concert at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall, and chamber and solo appearances throughout this country and Europe.
Surely playing the cello is one of the most personal of instrumental experiences. The player’s body is literally wrapped around it, in a careful embrace, the sound emanating from the center of the body of both person and instrument. With a range very close to that of the human voice, the cello is capable of embodying great emotion, and Antonov seems well-suited to conveying that. The romantic literature helped, as do his chiseled good looks. When deep into the demanding physical parts of the music, sweaty and hair flying, he could easily walk onto the set of the tv drama True Blood as a powerful, other-worldly entity.
The first piece on the program was Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello & Piano in G Minor, Op. 19—a gorgeous piece with the kind of lush melodies for which Rachmaninoff is famous. It is technically challenging for both cellist and pianist, and these players made it seem easy. In four movements, Lento – Allegro moderato, Allegro scherzando, Andante, and Allegro mosso, the 2nd movement stood out for ominous mood contrasting with a tender, wistful trio. The 3rd movement Andante opened with a fascinating play between major and minor tonalities. It also featured an extended romantic dialogue between the cello and piano.
Second on the program was a transcription of Alexander Scriabin’s Etude Op. 8, nos. 11 & 12. These were originally written for solo piano, but the arrangement, by Antonov and Kazantsev, was so perfectly suited and idiomatic that it’s hard to imagine they weren’t originally for that combination.
The final piece on the program, Edvard Grieg’s Sonata for Cello & Piano in A Minor, op. 36 was in 3 movements, Allegro agitato, Andante molto tranquillo (lovely and serene), and Allegro molto e marcato. This last movement featured a noble solo cello introduction, and some fun pizzicato work. It won a well-deserved standing ovation, which led to a fun wisp of an encore, The Fountain by Davidoff. This piece allowed Antonov to demonstrate just how fast a bow-arm can move: pretty amazingly fast!
This was the final program of the season for the Chamber Music Foundation of New England. If this concert is an example of the level of musicianship one can expect from its offerings, its subsequent series should not to be missed. Boston is blessed to have such fine musicians in her midst!
Elisa Birdseye, executive director of the Boston Chamber Ensemble, is an active freelance violist and principal violist of the New Bedford Symphony. Additionally, she has worked as the general manager of the New England Philharmonic and Boston Musica Viva.