THE ART OF THE CELLO • Dmitry Kouzov (vc); Peter Laul (pn) • MARQUIS 81395 (73:37)
BEETHOVEN Cello Sonata No. 2. SCHUMANN Fantasiestücke, op. 73. HICKEY Beara. SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Sonata in d. ROSTROPOVICHRead moreHumoresque, op. 5
Cellist Dmitri Kouzov is a product of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After successful concert appearances throughout Russia, he made his New York debut at Alice Tully Hall in 2005, playing the Schumann Concerto under the baton of Raymond Leppard. He has since been a featured performer at many international festivals, and in 2006 received the Rising Star Award of the New York Cello Society. He is currently on the faculties of Juilliard and the Oberlin Conservatory. Pianist Peter Laul, also a product of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, has won a number of prizes at international competitions, has performed widely throughout Russia and Europe, and has been a festival participant in Japan and the U.S.
Considering the formidable competition in the Beethoven and Shostakovich sonatas, the duo makes a respectable enough showing. Kouzov projects with a sure technique and a bright tone, and Laul likewise demonstrates thoroughly fluent fingerwork. Nowhere, however, do I sense the interpretive soul-mating magic that happens in the Beethoven between Daniel Müller-Schott and Angela Hewitt in their recent Hyperion recording reviewed in 32:4, or the soul-searing sparks that flash through the Shostakovich in the 1987 Sony recording with Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma in his prime. There’s somewhat less competition in the Schumann Fantasy Pieces, originally written for clarinet and piano. Nancy Green, a cellist I’ve touted for her recording of the Brahms sonatas, recorded the Schumann a decade ago; and that recording was pegged for potential Want List material by Robert McColley in 23:6, well before yours truly joined the Fanfare family. A much more recent Hyperion release with pianist Dénes Várjon and cellist Steven Isserlis—his second go at the Fantasy Pieces on recordings (his first was with pianist Christoph Eschenbach on RCA)—was highly recommended by Steven E. Ritter in 32:6.
“Ages to learn and a few seconds to play” is what Kouzov says of Rostropovich’s Humoresque, telling us how terribly difficult the piece is—which I wouldn’t question—but one has to wonder if it’s worth the effort. It’s an amusing little wine that tickles the palate with a flavor more tart than sweet.
I’ve saved for last the piece I least expected to appreciate, but the one that turned out to be the most interesting, Hickey’s 2001 Beara. I have no idea what connection, if any, the music has to Ireland’s southwest peninsula of the same name, but that was the only reference I found for the title word of the composition, and no explanation of it is offered in the booklet note. Sean Hickey, (b. 1970) a native of Detroit, Michigan, holds a degree in composition and theory from Wayne State University. I quote freely from his official Web site bio:
Since moving to New York, Sean has pursued further studies with Justin Dello Joio and Gloria Coates. His works include concertos for clarinet and cello, two string trios, a string quartet, a flute sonata, a woodwind quintet and trio, several pieces for solo instruments, church as well as orchestral music. He has also composed a film score, and composed the music for a children’s play. Sean is also active as an arranger, contributing arrangements for various artists and ensembles in the pop and jazz music spheres, most recently scoring The Winemaker for performances in Philadelphia. He has fulfilled commissions for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the St. Petersburg Symphony, and New York’s One World Symphony. His disc of chamber and orchestral works for Naxos American Classics, Left at the Fork in the Road, released in November 2005, broke the Billboard Top 100 Classical Chart.
Beara is a five-and-a-half-minute piece for unaccompanied cello that at moments sounds as if two instruments are playing. The effect seems to derive from bowing legato on one string while raising or lowering the bow to play one or more short notes on an adjacent string, a difficult technique one must master to play the third movement of Bach’s A-Minor Sonata for unaccompanied violin. Hickey also writes passages where the cello must bow and pizzicato simultaneously, another effect that contributes to the multiple instrument illusion. The musical vocabulary is modern, but not to the point of testing one’s belief that it’s actually music. In fact, Hickey’s piece is quite expressive; and after two or three hearings one can even anticipate its next gesture as naturally as one anticipates the next measure in Beethoven.
I do have one minor quibble about the recording. The acoustic setting strikes me as having a bit too much ambiance surrounding the instruments. It’s not excessive, but it has a tendency to place the cello and the piano in separate spaces. Other than that, as a satisfying mixed recital of cello works spanning two centuries of music history, this release is definitely worthy of a recommendation.
Bearaby Sean Hickey Performer:
Piotr Laul (Piano),
Dmitry Kouzov (Cello)
Period: 20th Century Date of Recording: 05/31/2007 Venue: Melodiya Studio, St. Petersburg, Russia Length: 5 Minutes 29 Secs.
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40by Dmitri Shostakovich Performer:
Dmitry Kouzov (Cello),
Piotr Laul (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1934; USSR Venue: Melodiya Studio, St. Petersburg, Russia Length: 26 Minutes 32 Secs.
Humoresque for cello & piano, Op. 5by Mstislav Rostropovich Performer:
Dmitry Kouzov (Cello),
Piotr Laul (Piano)
Period: Contemporary Venue: Melodiya Studio, St. Petersburg, Russia Length: 2 Minutes 3 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Note .March 31, 2013By Anatoly Paykin See All My Reviews"As far as I know Kouzov and Laul have been playing together since they were 12 years old. It's hard to imagine they did not develop sufficient chemistry between them as respectful critic suggested."Report Abuse