Firing on all cylinders, Mark Kosower steals the thunder in a varied and vital chamber program

By David Fleshler

Cello recitals in South Florida are as rare as frigid temperatures. But Mark Kosower, principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra, made up for it Thursday with a recital and a half – three substantial sonatas, a contemporary work for solo cello, a set of ethnic melodies by a 20th-century Russian composer, and an encore from the swashbuckling virtuoso era of the late 19th century.

The concert was part of the Community Arts Program of Coral Gables Congregational Church, a summer series now in its 25th year that breaks up the off-season doldrums with appearances by first-class classical and jazz performers.

Although Kosower is an emotive player to watch, a disciplined performer who never allows self-indulgence to creep into his playing; clean and straightforward, with virtually none of the surface noise and bow scrapes produced by some of his peers. His facility with the instrument is astonishing, with accurate playing at high speeds to the very top of the cello’s range. Although he can generate a luscious, throbbing sound when he wants one, he never deploys it indiscriminately just to bathe the audience in warm cello sounds.

His straightforward approach worked well in Beethoven’s early Sonata in G minor, Op.5 No.2, where he brought out the big, classical melodies with taste and a sense of largeness and grandeur, never attempting to pour more personality into them than they could handle. In Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in G minor, Op.19, he unleashed his big, singing tone for the work’s soaring melodies. He played the Allegro scherzando with driving force but again never let the dramatics serve as an excuse for drawing unintended sounds from the instrument.

In Debussy’s late Cello Sonata, composed during World War I, he drew a vast range of colors from the instrument that never let the work’s melancholy tone deprive it of energy. His performance of Dutilleux’s Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher, for specially tuned solo cello, was an intense and concentrated experience, Kosower easily handling the work’s difficult technical demands to draw unearthly harmonics and other unusual tones from the instrument.

Accompanying Kosower on the piano was his wife, Jee-Won Oh. Although the three sonatas that made up the bulk of the program were equal collaborations between cello and piano, this was decidedly a cello recital. Oh’s name appears substantially smaller on the program, and for most of the evening she played that way. Even in the Rachmaninoff Sonata, with which the advertised program ended, she held back, not playing with the brilliance and drama the work seemed to require.

Kosower broke up the heavy parade of big works with Songs and Dances, Op.84, by the 20th-century Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin. Of this set of singing melodies and manic dances, the most impressive was the ‘Tartar Dance’, a sort of Central Asian Flight of the Bumblebee, which allowed Kosower to show off his ability to play at high speed (of which more was to come).

As an encore, Kosower gave a blazing performance of the 19th-century cellist David Popper’s Tarantella, a frenzied few minutes of double-stops, bouncing bow effects and extraordinarily rapid runs up and down the fingerboard.

The next classical performance in the Coral Gables Congregational Church Community Arts Program will be July 15 at 8 p.m. with a recital by the pianist Awadagin Pratt. Call 305-448-7421, ext. 153, or go to:

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One Response to “Firing on all cylinders, Mark Kosower steals the thunder in a varied and vital chamber program”

  1. Posted Jun 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm by Rick Meyers

    Is a recording of this recital available?
    I want one!

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Fri Jun 18, 2010
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