in: Reviews

July 3, 2013

Gold Medal Collaboration at Rockport

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Sergey Antonov (file photo)

Sergey Antonov (file photo)

Saturday night, Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center welcomed Sergey Antonov, cello; and Ilya Kazantsev, piano, for a two-hour long recital. Both are gold medalists: Kazantsev in the 1998 Rubinstein Competition, and Antonov in the 2007 Tchaikovsky Competition. This gilded concert showcased their chops in the Barber, Grieg, and Rachmaninoff sonatas.

The announced program included Paul Creston’s Suite for Cello and Piano, op. 66 (1956), which I was looking forward to hearing for the first time. Following David Deveau’s words of welcome, and comments on the rarity of two gold medalists choosing to perform together and actually enjoying the experience, he said there would be a change to the program.  The performers took the stage and announced that the Creston would not be heard, and that the concert would begin instead with Samuel Barber’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 6 (1936). This three-movement work dedicated to the composer’s teacher, Rosario Scalero, already showcases Barber’s distinctive voice. The key of c minor is a particularly rich one for the cello’s tessitura, and shows Barber’s mastery of orchestration, instrumental timbre, and technical possibilities even in his earlier compositions. The opening Allegro ma non troppo announces a wide-ranging theme that spans almost three octaves, and this use of full register continues in the Adagio and Allegro appassionato, along with metric modulations and changes in time signature. Antonov and Kazantsev immediately achieved a good balance between the two instruments and maintained a very tight ensemble in their playing. The music took precedence over the easily dispatched technical challenges. This was an accomplished reading marked by a cleanness and precision of playing. At the same time, I personally found this performance rather weighty—a good prelude to the Rachmaninoff later in the program, but I missed lightness especially in the second theme of the first movement.

The second work heard was Edvard Grieg’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 36 (1893). The first movement, marked Allegro agitato, was gut-wrenching, and sounded for all the world like a finale and not an introit. As the movement ended, I sat stunned, wondering where the sonata would proceed. The lyricism of the Andante molto tranquillo was full, and the arioso passage leading into the b-theme was poignant. The concluding Allegro molto e marcato, a rondo-esque movement which references Norwegian dance music, kept flirting with an ending yet deferring the final cadence. Structurally innovative, this sonata is a challenge to pace in performance.  While I found the individual movements pleasing, from this performance I did not grasp a sense of the overall structure to this sonata.

Ilya Kazantsev (file photo)

Ilya Kazantsev (file photo)

Following intermission, the recital resumed with Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano, op. 19 (1901). This is a bear of a work, equally challenging for both instruments and demanding of a high level of virtuosity in both parts. From the opening Lento—Allegro moderato we knew that would not be a problem for Antonov and Kazantsev. Both fully inhabited their parts and also worked to meld their voices into one music. The Lento began with quiet authority and certainty, while the Allegro moderato grew and drew upon the resources of the opening. The Allegro scherzando was definitive and precise, while the Andante was lyrical and perhaps more full of anguish than many other renditions. The concluding Allegro mosso was pronounced and authoritative. All in all, this music spans a long gamut of emotions and colors across the full range of both instruments; that aspect of the music was well-represented in this polished performance.

The applause drew two sets of encores from the musicians. The first was Karl Yulievich Davydovs At the Fountain, op. 20, a virtuosic showstopper one plays because one can.  They could, and they did. After another round of applause, the musicians offered up their own transcriptions of two of Scriabin’s Études—No. 11 being a study in tenderness, and No. 12 a piece which recalls the Rachmaninoff sonata in its mood and tone.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.

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