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CHAMBER REVIEW

Dmitry and Yulia Kouzov Feb. 14 in Sebastopol

BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020

Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125.

Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy opening, and cellist Dmitry Kouzov dug deeply into the strings at times, adding heft to what is a frothy piece that lasted just under 10 minutes. Pianist Yulia Kouzova played fluently and added to the beguiling effects of the composer’s unceasing originality.

The mood sharply changed with Brahms’ E Minor Sonata, Op. 38, and the Duo captured the dark colors and the cello line’s solemn march theme than never seems to rise into the high register. Mr. Kouzov is an artist with lots of head and body movement (many cellists do this) and used a wide vibrato in most of the work’s wonderful and brawny themes. The Church’s acoustics were direct with little reverberation, and the Allegro’s ending chord was lovely, the cello (low) and the piano (high) a fifth apart.

The middle movement was played with a graceful minuet between shorter outer sections, and the piano line never covered the cello. The fugal finale was played with off-beat accents and momentum, but Ms. Kouzova had difficulty with fast scales in the accelerando towards the end. Piano action repetition might have been the culprit, or the tempo was too brisk.

It was an exciting reading of Brahms' work from 1866, and following intermission Beethoven’s C Major Sonata, Op. 102, No. 1, was substituted for the originally announced Bach Second Suite. Well, it’s the Beethoven year, and the lyrical beginning was like a flower opening in serenity. Ms. Kouzov’s trills were even and, like much in late Beethoven, extended in length and often expressive.

This Sonata is quite different from its tumultuous predecessor (in A Major, Op. 69) and is harmonically complex, with many short thematic phrases and none of the somber nature of the Brahms. The Kouzovs deftly managed the many tempo changes and spotlighted the dissonances. It was a bright and challenging interpretation, and the evening’s highlight.

Completing the recital was a performance of Martinu’s spontaneous tour-de-force Variations on a Theme of Rossini, Op. 290, from 1942. The original theme was from the opera “Moses in Egypt,” and Paganini’s use of the theme was also a model for the composer. Regardless, the Kouzov Duo put the tune through its virtuosic paces, at times letting the piano and cello sound at cross-purposes. They played the many crescendos, decrescendos and stormy parts, with cello slides and the exciting coda brilliantly.

A standing ovation generated an encore of an opposite texture and mood, a transcription of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, a Romance from Op. 34, No. 12. Here Mr. Kouzov beautifully matched the original vocal part in rich tone color, perfectly aligned with a sensitive pianissimo from his partner.

Pianist Andreas Klein performs at the next RAC concert March 20 in the Occidental Center for the Arts.