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RECITAL REVIEW

Alexander Kobrin and Boris Andrianov in Occidental (K. Broderson photo)

BRILLIANT RUSSIAN DUO IN REDWOOD ARTS COUNCIL OCCIDENTAL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 11, 2012

Itís a rare occurrence in a cello recital that each programmed piece was both a masterwork of the literature and flawlessly performed, admitting nothing but awe and warm satisfaction from even the most seasoned string aficionado.

Such was the thrilling Redwood Arts Council recital of Boris Andrianov Feb. 11 in Occidental's Performing Arts Center before a packed house of 200. How does a flawless cello recital unfold? First a powerful pianist is needed, and the Russian Virtuoso Alexander Kobrin is just that. Next, a serious and demanding program is expected. No David Popper or Julius Klengel pieces. Finally, the cellist has to have a powerful interpretative personality, similar to but distinct from artists such as Casals, Piatigorsky, Rostropovich and DuPre.

Mr. Andrianov has this artistic stature and proved it quickly in the evening's initial work, Beethoven's C Major Sonata of Op. 102. The haunting opening theme moved effortlessly into the lyrical second theme and Mr. Andrianov underscored the many subtle dynamic contrasts. The Montagnana cello seemed to ďgrowlĒ caressingly in the Adagio, preceding the introduction to the finale that alluded deftly to the first movement. Both artists securely built the momentum in a seamless partnership but kept distinct voices.

The first half closed with Brittenís Op. 65 Sonata in C, a commanding piece from 1961 in five disparate movements. The furious sections of musical interplay found Mr. Kobrin note perfect and never afraid of his left hand power, and Mr. Andrianovís cello rich in the bottom register. The pizzicato opening of the Scherzo was magical, the plucking in the cello expected but Mr. Kobrin elicited nearly identical sound from his hammered string piano! His running passages were always clearly articulated, continuing into a perfectly balanced slow march of the Lento, the cello played with mute. Here the performers made the music sound like it was composed by Shostakovich, becoming clangorous and sonically surprising with long finger-board slides from the cellist. Mr. Andrianov all evening exhibited consummate bow control and a jumping spiccato bow in the energetic fifth movement Marcia.

Schumannís three lush Op. 73 Fantasiestuck began the second part, the most popular piece on the program due partly to its many transcriptions for clarinet and French horn. But the tender and expressive sections sound perfect for the cello and Mr. Andrianov made the most of their romantic restlessness. The phrasing from both artists was patrician and the second part (Lebhaft leicht) elegant in every detail, especially in the pianistís velvet arpeggios.

Italian composer Giovanni Sollima (b. 1962) is a cello master and his Lamentatio (1997) is a tour de force for solo cello, requiring a brilliant technique of the performer. Mr. Andrianov played the eight-minute work fearlessly and with radiant tone and dead-on pitch, as he did throughout the concert. The audience appeared astonished and excited at the potent reading of an unfamiliar composition.

Ending the recital was a pillar of 20th-Century music for cello, Shostakovichís Op. 40 Sonata from 1934. Mr. Kobinís introductory remarks, referring to the composerís Fourth Symphony and opera Lady MacBeth of the Mtsensk from the same period, underscored the masterly invention of the opening Allegro. Here both musicians were interested in the long line, the contemplative first theme giving way to dramatic outbursts, always supported by Mr. Kobrinís powerful sound and infallible left-hand octaves. Mr. Andrianov carefully widened his vibrato with increasing volume, symmetrically narrowing it with lowered sonority. The cellist played with concentration, eschewing the physical flamboyance of Misha Maisky without giving up one iota of tonal opulence.

As in many Shostakovich works, the themes can be initially banal but always take on complexity and become unforgettable in context, especially when performed with this duoís artistry. The concluding Allegro was played with little string vibrato, beginning with mute but then quickly becoming vivacious and witty. This was playing with sweep and big gestures.

Mention needs to be made of the hallís piano, a less than professional instrument with limited treble sustain, slow key repetition, damper leakage in loud chords and muddy bass tones. Mr. Kobrinís approach was to give no quarter, making the inadequate instrument sing and roar as if it were without peer.

The two stellar Russians gave the finest cello recital in the North Bay since the Isserlis-Gerstein concert in Newman long ago. Their musical marriage was passionately united in the service of great music.