Pianist Arnaldo Cohen shows brilliance and insight at Four Arts in Palm Beach

By Lawrence Budmen

Arnaldo Cohen performed a wide-ranging piano recital Wednesday night at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach.

The Brazilian pianist Arnaldo Cohen encompassed the divergent musical styles of Haydn, Brahms and Chopin in an striking and impressive recital Wednesday night at the Society of Four Arts in Palm Beach.

Cohen is a connoisseur’s pianist. His technique is rock solid but he does not exude the dazzling brilliance of the Russian school. Unlike the wild histrionics of some younger keyboard players, he exerts a minimum of physical motion when playing. For Cohen, the architecture and color of music are paramount. His playing never calls attention to his first-class technical gifts which are merely a means to serve the score. Cohen’s ability to bring fresh insights to the most familiar or complex works proved the mark of an exceptional artist.

Cohen captured both the impish humor and contrapuntal intricacy of Haydn’s Sonata in F Major. His lithe, urgent playing and evenly sustained rhythm enlivened the opening Allegro moderato. Strands of arpeggiated figuration were remarkably clear, Cohen achieving the rapid alternation of left and right hands seamlessly.  The Baroque serenity of the Adagio was beautifully conveyed through Cohen’s soft, gentle touch and elegant phrasing. His incisive approach to the finale emphasized the bold originality and darker layers of Haydn’s development beneath the outward jollity.

Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel is one of the monuments of the solo keyboard literature and Cohen’s performance subtly illuminated the massive score’s formal structure and volatile shifts of tone and meter. Cohen shaped the thematic Aria (from Handel’s Harpsichord Suite No.1) with restraint, projecting delicacy rather than grandeur. He unleashed a brilliant display of pianistic fireworks in the fourth variations, the hands moving across the keyboard in a blur at top speed. Cohen vibrantly put across Brahms’ shadow play of light and dark, summoning sensitivity, gravitas and sheer pianistic power as needed.

Cohen was not afraid to inject a note of brusque urgency into the final variation before restating the theme, now in cascading triumphal glory. The concluding fugue was remarkable for transparency of line, unrelenting rhythmic pulse and a supple buildup of intensity. Throughout the performance, Cohen met Brahms’ remarkable score on its own terms, projecting charm, lyricism and eloquence in perfect proportion.

Devoting the second half of the concert to the Four Scherzos of Chopin, Cohen attacked the first B minor work at whirlwind tempo but brought spaciousness and depth to the chorale melody. Like Chopin players of an earlier generation, Cohen applied rubato liberally, coloring and shaping the melody and rhythm. The martial subject of the Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor was strongly accented. In the central section, Cohen projected the pulsating rhythm with the verve of the mazurka, and brought a touch of the demonic to Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor. By contrast the final Scherzo No.4 in E Major emerged airy and playful, Cohen bringing clarity to a plethora of inner detail often obscured by less artful players.

Repeated cheers and standing ovations brought Chopin’s Minute Waltz, enlivened by  subtle detailing, beguiling syncopations and quirky hesitations. Even in this most familiar work, the freshness and originality of Cohen’s musicianship proved memorable.

Posted in Performances

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Thu Feb 2, 2012
at 12:59 pm
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