A Romantic Recital – Nina Kotova and Jose Feghali, Cello Sonatas – Warner Classics

by | Nov 5, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

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BRAHMS: Cello Sonata No. 1 in E Minor; REGER: Suite for Solo Cello No. 2 in D Minor; SCHUMANN: Fantasiestücke; Adagio and Allegro in A-flat Major – Nine Kotova, cello/ Jose Feghali, piano – Warner Classics 01902950 (4/9/21) (65:45) ****:

The present album stands as fond farewell to Brazilian pianist Jose Feghali (1961-2014), former laureate of the Van Cliburn Competition, whom cellist Kotova recalls as “an extraordinary musician whose sensitivity to detail and passion for excellence were paramount.” In the music of Brahms, especially, the composer’s first sonata for cello and piano, the Sonata in E Minor (1865-1866), demands that the cello support the lyrical, upper, soprano line of the piano and so establishes a rare fusion of blended sound. Give the tonal luster of Russian cellist Kotova’s 1679 (DuPre) Stradivarius, the result from Producer Philip Traugott proves immediately compelling. 

Kotova and Feghali impose a strong sense of unity in the opening Allegro non troppo, with its first five notes’ outlining a rising triad and flatted sixth and then resting on the interval of  the fifth, a motif no less evident in the counter-theme. The composer’s long admiration – and perhaps obsession – with Bach dominates this work, given the likeness of the theme to the kernel that motivates ach The Art of Fugue, here in inversion; while the finale, Allegro, seems a literal transposition of Contrapunctus XIII from that same source. The music proceeds in groups that juxtapose three metric units in 4/4, a pattern Brahms likes in the second movement of Ein deutsches Requiem. A third theme emerges that possesses the character of a cradle-song, a perfect vehicle for our principals. Their sustained mood of gentle melancholy permeates the opening movement, which works out the complexities of sonata-form in traditional style. The second movement, Allegretto quasi Menuetto, retains the character of a Viennese soirée, set in the Phrygian mode of A Minor. Its valse-triste character, marked by a four-note pattern, finds a delicate balance here in Kotova and Feghali, who add a touch of wistfulness into the Trio section. The contrapuntal Allegro imposes upon us that curious mixture of strict, even Spartan severity in Brahms that still manages lyrical finesse, as in the E Minor Symphony. Despite the plethora of polyphonic technique, like stretti and inversions – here synthesized into the strictures of sonata-form – Brahms emanates potent, expressive power, especially in the cello’s thumping bass notes and is high, singing tessitura. Feghali’s left hand introduces the fugal subject, and his contribution of quickly propelled, scalar figures against Kotova’s anguished cello line keeps us in thrall throughout this moody, often furiously passionate music.

Reger’s late-Romantic compositions, the Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor proceeds in a relatively clean, approachable texture. What distinguishes the melodic arch lies in the expressive gestures and the tonal range of harmony. Kotova is asked to differentiate between degrees of pp to ff and back to ppp. Thee first movement, Praeludium: Largo moves in a relatively free sonata-form. The Reger capacity for lyrical melody asserts itself in the third movement Largo, while his gift for dance music moves fleetly in the F Major Gavotte and final Gigue. Kotova’s rapt attention to the expressive demands of the first and third movements well justifies her repute for potent, lyrical rapture in her performances. 

Robert Schumann composed the bulk of his chamber music within an 11-year period, between 1842 and 1853. Schumann often stipulated that diverse instruments could realize his intentions, as in the Drei Fantasiestücke, originally conceived for clarinet and piano. These fantasy-pieces of 1849 had been designated Soireestücke to distinguish them from earlier fantasy-pieces. The opening piece, Zart und mit Ausdruck, “Tender and with expression,” in A Minor conveys a flowing, romantic mood in which triplet arpeggios in the keyboard meet a rising semitone motif that will soon make its import evident. The melancholy duet ends in the major mode. The second piece, in A Major, Schumann marks as Lebhaft, leicht,Lively, light,” with piano triplets set against duple eighths in Kotova’s line. Our principals move in chromatic triplets to F Major, and then to the lyricism of the opening and a serene coda. Attacca, Schumann thrusts us into his last movement, Rasch und mit Feuer, “Quickly and with fire,” urging his principals to play even faster. Rich chords permeate both parts, with impulsive bursts of energy that move to a glorious conclusion.

The Adagio and Allegro (for Horn) Schumann completed in merely two days in 1849, right on the heels of the Fantasy-Pieces. Schumann’s intention to express “gentle ecstasy and euphoria” became immediately obvious to wife Clara, who celebrated the work as “a magnificent piece, fresh and passionate.” As a lyrical and energized vehicle for Kotova and Feghali, the music succeeds admirably, offering a poetic synergy that will endure as a fitting tribute to pianist Feghali, who by his suicide robbed us all of a unique musical gift.

—Gary Lemco

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Kotova and Feghali A Romantic Recital Cello Sonatas, Album Cover

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