...but as presented by the orchestra's principal cellist David Cohen it won over and thrilled its listeners...
Cohen was a masterful soloist, absolutely commanding throughout, whether playing quietly or battling against the many outbursts of the large percussion section. In the finale the sense of anguish was palpable as the few recurring moments of orchestral warmth were extinguished, leaving the soloist with his defiant final sustained note. This concert was an emotional journey that will live in the memories of those who heard it for a long time.
The lavishly talented David Cohen has been Principal Cello of the Philharmonia Orchestra since 2001 and has impressed in that role. In tackling the Everest of cello concertos, Dvorák’s, Cohen scaled its heights impressively and ardently, and also with a poise and rhapsody, without imposing on the music. The concerto had been as well-prepared as the overture and symphony (meticulously); rarely has it been so apparent as to how the writing for woodwinds and horns complements the cellist and what a feast it is in itself. This was a wonderfully integrated performance (beautifully balanced, Dohnányi occasionally visibly restraining the brass), one of teamwork and virtuoso solos, from Cohen of course and also Kenneth Smith (flute) and Elspeth Dutch (horn), that revealed the work’s depth and scale as well as its craft, heart, nostalgia, stirring rhetoric and sadness.
David Cohen & Olga Sitkovetsky at Wigmore Hall
Bach Suite in G for unaccompanied cello, BWV1007?Schubert Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano, D821?Cassadó Suite for Solo Cello?Grieg Sonata in A minor for Cello and Piano, Op.36
David Cohen (cello) & Olga Sitkovetsky (piano)
Under the auspices of Oleg Kagan’s Razumovsky Trust, this recital by the Philharmonia Orchestra’s principal cellist David Cohen offered an enjoyable mixture of compositional styles. With help from the Trust, Cohen has been able to secure a 1735 Domenico Montagnana cello, and showed its breadth of tone in unaccompanied Bach.
Here Cohen was relatively liberal with tempo and rhythm, with a particularly relaxed ‘Allemande’ and ‘Sarabande’. In the ‘Prelude’ his decision not to slur’ many notes in one bow led to a less fluid approach, meaning the cumulative tension that rises towards the final bars was lost. Occasionally he overdid rubato, with both ‘Menuets’ pulled around too much to have a common meter, but the affection he clearly feels for music could be felt, particularly in a hushed repeat of the first section of the ‘Sarabande’.
In Schubert’s Sonata for the five-stringed now-extinct arpeggione, the dance aspect could again have been exploited more, especially in the second themes of the outer movements, with their potential for a rustic flavour and rhythmic vitality. Schubert’s writing for the five-string instrument transcribes well to cello but makes demands on the player’s command of the high register. Here Cohen’s technique was impeccable, a strong tone maintained in even the highest passages. Olga Sitkovetsky acquitted herself extremely well in a sensitive accompaniment, shaping the first-movement theme nicely while providing a lilt to the slow movement. If the finale was a little too straight, Schubert’s humour well beneath the surface, the dance-theme acquired a forthright air as it reached the ‘home’ key.
If Cohen was holding back slightly in the Bach and Schubert, caution was thrown to the wind in a highly expressive performance of Gaspar Cassadó’s rarely heard Suite. A pupil of Pablo Casals, the Spanish cellist Cassadó (1897-1966) seems to have taken his lead from the Solo Sonata of Kodály, both in a prolific use of multiple-stopping and the incorporation of folk-inflected themes, in this case Catalan, to the music. Cohen was extremely convincing here, with a firm, heavily ornamented declaration setting the tone in the ‘Preludio’. There followed a surging ‘Sardana’ (a Catalan dance), while the passionate solo lines of ‘Intermezzo’ gave way to a powerful yet controlled dance finale, the multiple-stopping firm and clear.
Sitkovetsky rejoined Cohen for a commanding performance of Grieg’s Cello Sonata, and successfully resisted the impulse to take over in the virtuoso piano part, her upward, arpeggiated sweeps calculated and held within. Cohen’s phrasing was broad and well-suited to Grieg’s melodic contours, conveying the restlessness of the first movement’s theme, which was quelled in the stillness of Sitkovetsky’s slower response.
This is very much a duo-sonata, with balance and structure extremely well-observed and songful episodes exploited for their lyric potential. Humour, too – the finale’s triadic theme played off between the two musicians until it became something of an angry dispute in the central section, returning to something carefree.
As a generous encore, the two played Paganini’s Variations on a Theme of Rossini’, a display piece designed to be played solely on the cello’s ‘A’ string in Maurice Gendron’s arrangement. Cohen sparkled in his characterisations, whether at speed or in slower, lyrical sweeps, the quickness of the hands sometimes outwitting us in the audience in this energetic performance.
Yehudi Menuhin was quoted on the programme’s front page as considering David Cohen, the Philharmonia Orchestra’s 24-year-old co-principal, as one of the most talented cellists. This recital demonstrated both performers’ considerable abilities as well as poetic and mature qualities.
Debussy’s many-sided Sonata, with its slightly cringe-worthy programme of Pierrot unhappily in love with the moon, the moods spontaneously switched between solemn and facetious narrative poses. Though relatively brief, this music brought out Cohen’s main gift: to be receptive and sympathetic to the mood-swings. And the first of two encores, Paganini’s Variations on one string, highlighted this from a humorous perspective, leaving a thoroughly charming impression of both musicians; Olga Sitkovetsky filled her role nearly perfectly: a firm and powerful touch in solos, and lyrical in accompanying mode. Timing between the two displayed an admirable sense of communication.
The other two sonatas (including Franck’s own transcription of his Violin Sonata) both proved good choices, the tragic undertones of Shostakovich’s work giving a sumptuous sample of the cello’s possibilities. In the Franck, opened by the piano’s elegiac solo pianist, Cohen soon took over with his ‘gently weeping’ cello. The technical challenges of the Allegro presented Cohen with the chance to present his singing line; even the violent trills on the lowest string were performed with gentleness and elegance. The slow movement was the dreamily, melancholic highpoint. With Cohen resting his head on the cello’s corpus, the finale became emotionally charged, the audience holding their breaths for five long seconds after the last chord.
With Shostakovich’s Sonata the evening took a somewhat wilder turn, introducing elements of Russian folklore in the second and last movements as well as deep gloom in the Largo. The first movement was performed with sensitivity for the piece’s structuring and, as in the Debussy, for the varying moods. The second movement, one of the more folksy parts of this piece, found the two musicians grooving congenially along. Cohen produced some immaculate flageolet slides.
One of Astor Piazzolla’s finest attempts at introducing Tango into classical music, the Grand Tango of 1982 closed the evening. As the programme states, this “tour de force in style and technique requires an impeccable sense of rhythm in the first section, sensuality in the second section and ardent passion in the powerful finale”. All requirements were richly met.
This is a fantastic recording of a twentieth-century masterpiece, with some world-class playing throughout.
The evening was closed with a stunning performance of Beethoven’s opus 132 by a string quartet of the Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra. With fitting drama and atmosphere, they were lit by just a single bulb from an overhead light. I marvelled at the exuberance and obvious joy with which they played and I was especially taken by David Cohen’s performance on cello, not least by him performing in stockinged feet with his boots by the spike. Very cool.
So, a reading of Eliot’s finest work accompanied by a Beethoven piece to make your bones tingle. Probably one of the best ways to wind down after a funeral.
Only at the Donmar. Bravo.
Philharmonia/Halffter/Cohen, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
By Robert Maycock
Tuesday, 6 March 2007
The classic was Witold Lutoslawski’s Cello Concerto. Written for Mstislav Rostropovich in 1970, it has been taken up by surprisingly few colleagues. Perhaps the dedicatee was a hard act to follow, or perhaps it is just that Lutoslawski has gone out of fashion since he died in 1994, but as presented by the orchestra’s principal cellist David Cohen it won over and thrilled its listeners.
While the composer used to play down the dramatic metaphors with which he once described it to Rostropovich, the music unfolds like a gripping narrative. The soloist plays for several minutes, until the trumpets launch an aggressive series of interruptions. Then he has to raise his game as the full orchestra picks a fight. In a final show of defiance, the orchestral music becomes deliberately grotesque, in a way that belies Lutoslawski’s usual delicate touch and sounds dated. But the cello’s role remains fresh and affecting.
“…Unlike the First Concerto,
the Second has never established itself in
the regular repertoire, but, in the hands
of the masterly David Cohen, its eloquence
and beauty shone through. David brought
out the smiling melancholy of the piece,
and eloquently expressed the composer’s
troubled thoughts. …”
“…David Cohen sure follows in the footsteps of Jacqueline Dupre…..”
” A real musical sensation ”
“these compositions were expertly performed in a performance which had everything, life, feeling, accuracy and a real sense there here were two great musicians enjoying what they were doing.”
“From where i was sitting the cello part desounded sonorously throughout , subtlety of phrasing and finesses was apparent.”
“An individual, and an exceptionally gifted one”.
”the passionate playing of Cohen healed the ears. One could feel the self-confidence of a soloist who had such experience with this piece. He created a unity with the orchestra and his cello sang with full emotion…. Cohen invited the audience to enter the meditative, Requiem-like world of Elgar, full of deep sadness.”
“Cohen’s musicality and his prizewinning virtuosity…”
” Cohen gave a deeply moving, highly accomplished and wonderfully musical readinh. Embracing the technicalities with masterful ease, he empathised totally with both conductor and accompanying musicians, conbeying all the emotions of Elgar’s fine composition without resorting to any of the excessive physical histrionics we sometimes associate with concerto solsoits….a true unique musician.”
“Cohen demonstrated considerable abilities as well as poetic and mature qualities”
“The audience was holding their breaths for five long seconds after the last chord”
” David Cohen performs with striking style and a wonderfully expressive reading of Bach’s cello suites. His tone colour was warm and full yet never overdone, articulation was immaculately clean, phrasing was perfectly judged and his control of the lightning string crossing and running scales in the gigue was beyond reproach.
Schubert’s arpeggione sonata had an irresistible lightness of touch, coloured with real passion in the more intense moments.”
C.N The Strad
“David Cohen gives a warm, rich and mellow in tone account of Lalo’s concerto, his playing demonstrates total commitment, combining vitality with expressive feeling in the most spontaneous manner.”
R.S The Strad
“…David Cohen, one of the most talented young cellists I know. He was a student at my School for some years, and is altogether a remarkable young man, a remarkable performer and already an outstanding cellist.”
Lord Menuhin (dec. 98)