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Nina Kotova – Rachmaninov-Prokofiev: Cello Sonatas

Nina Kotova returns with a new collection of cello renditions. Last time we reviewed her excellent Bach cello suites which we found to be thought provoking and sonically stimulating. This time, Kotova offers her skills this time presenting sonatas by Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. As to be expected, her arrangements and performance are of the highest order, with attention to detail and a careful balance between the soft moments and the times when the crescendo really reaches its peak.

Certainly, from the first of the Rachmaninoff pieces performed, there are many shifts and changes to be found. Where things start of softly, as a cat might tentatively first step out onto the untouched snow for the first time, the music gradually builds and develops. Certain motifs come and go, as characters on a cast list who perform their part before withdrawing to allow others into the limelight. The sheer beauty here is the interplay between Kotova’s strings and Fabio Bidini’s piano, the two instruments holding an intimate dialogue which at times feels more like a dance than a performance of music. It’s almost possible to imagine the very sounds with their arms around each other in an embrace on a ballroom floor, dancing gently in the empty, dimly lit room. As we are led further through the various sonatas, it is very much akin to being led through a huge mansion made up of many rooms. Some of the rooms are big and grand, with all kinds of detail to take in and explore. Some of the rooms are smaller and more intimate, offering the chance to pause for a while and savour the situation. All the while, the performances feel very much like being taken on a journey, as though a guide has taken us firmly and confidently by the hand to lead us through this marvellous mansion of discovery.

It’s on the final Rachmaninoff piece that sees a sudden change of pace, certainly in terms of the way things start off. There is a wild, frenetic pace to the performance, and over time this tumult gradually subsides to allow for a deeply melancholic tone to bubble to the surface. The cello soars and sweeps around the glacial piano notes, the firm melodies establishing themselves strongly and moving towards moments that feel almost like a dramatic chase scene. There is a playfulness here too, just as children might run around and try to hide from each other to avoid being caught.

And so, the Prokofiev pieces follow on with a depth and gravitas that is evident from the opening bars. Low cello notes create a dark, threatening tone, while the piano underpins the sound before the whole thing opens up as though the morning windows have been flung open and sunlight streams into the room. Certainly, Kotova’s skill in expression through the cello as well as her capacity to work so intimately alongside the piano is a true wonder. Her performance contains a sensitivity that makes for some truly moving listening, and her work continues to be a delight to the senses.

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