Pianist Cohen delivers an individual, revelatory recital

Mon May 09, 2011 at 8:44 am

By Doyle Armbrust

Arnaldo Cohen performed music of Bach, Liszt and several Brazilian composers Sunday afternoon at Symphony Center.

Those that opted for a bouquet on Sunday would have done better to bring mother to Arnaldo Cohen’s recital at Symphony Center. Those lilies will soon be wilting in the vase, but for those fortunate enough to have made it to the Brazilian-born pianist’s luminous recital, the memories aren’t likely to fade anytime soon.

A professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, Cohen inhabits that precarious space in which his name alone may not be enough to coax the typical concertgoer away from Mother’s Day mimosa brunches. But he possesses a sterling reputation among pianists as well as those that have had witnessed the blur of his fingers above the keys.

Bach’s Chaconne, from the Partita No. 2 in D minor, has been appropriated for any number of instruments, a cause of frequent consternation for violinists. Yet Ferruccio Busoni’s solo piano transcription has long been accepted into the canon — and since Cohen graduated with honors degrees in both violin and piano from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro he should know what works.

Busoni’s retooling of the mighty Chaconne suggests the concrete architecture of Louis I. Khan, uncovering the geometry of Bach’s masterwork, largely unclouded by traditions of rubato or performer whims. The progressions emerged as crystalline in Cohen’s hands, Bach’s vertical cadences, monolithic and revelatory. The clarity with which Cohen navigated Bach’s interweaving harmonies made the composition take on a near-synesthetic lucidity, and ended with a momentary, stunned silence from the audience.

Brazilian composer Alberto Nepumeceno’s Air from Suite Antiga, Op. 11 would be a natural for a future film soundtrack of Anna Karenina, the music’s melancholy like a regretful palm pressed against a frosted train window. Brazilian music was well-represented in Sunday’s program, including Radamés Gnattali’s cabaret-like Valsa No. 7, Luiz Levy’s nostalgic Valsa lenta No. 4 and Francisco Braga’s flitting Corrupio, each finding its authentic dance qualities in Cohen’s hands.

Perhaps most endearing was Ernesto Nazareth’s Apanhei-te, Cavaquinho, inspired by the cavaco, a four-stringed, upper-register guitar/ukelele. Cohen’s bravura right hand was on full display for the shimmering cavaco flourishes that prevail throughout the miniature, a technical facility that dominated the entire afternoon.

Nowhere was this more evident than Franz Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole, one of the Hungarian’s musical travelogues and possibly the most demanding. Cohen’s fleet maneuvering through Liszt’s labyrinthine scales and the Folia theme’s massive chordal leaps left not a single note buried beneath the pedal, no easy feat given his blazing tempo.

Cohen’s clarity was equally striking in his fleet performance of Chopin’s four Scherzos, which uncovered an array of details buried by lesser hands. The color palette offered here was equally staggering, as in the sinister rumbles interrupting the majestic chords that open and traverse Scherzo No. 2. As in the Bach, one had the impression that Cohen was allowing these scores to speak for themselves, particularly in his dynamic, inevitable-seeming builds through circuitous passagework sections.

An evocative rendering of Chopin’s Fourth Scherzo had the audience on its feet clamoring for more, to which Cohen obliged with Liszt’s Consolation No. 3 in D-flat Major and Chopin’s Minute Waltz (in D-flat major, Op. 64, No. 1).

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Pianist Cohen delivers an individual, revelatory recital”

  1. Posted May 10, 2011 at 9:55 am by Linda Motz

    I was one of the moms in the audience that felt this was a truly wonderful way to spend Mother’s Day. Wonderful playing. I do hope Mr. Cohen comes back soon.

Leave a Comment