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Jonah Kim - Sean Kennard: Barber / Rachmaninoff is 'anything but' a plain old sonata album / The Rehearsal Studio

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A few months ago Delos released what seems to be the debut album of the duo of cellist Jonah Kim and pianist Sean Kennard. The two of them met as teenagers at the Curtis Institute of Music, and the first major work they prepared was Sergei Rachmaninoff's Opus 19 sonata. Appropriately enough, they chose that sonata as the opening selection on their new album. However, my own interest was more inclined to what followed, Samuel Barber's Opus 6 sonata.

I first came to know this sonata through the Canadian West Hill Radio Archives Barber anthology, Historical Recordings: 1935–1960 (which Amazon.com tells me I purchased on October 13, 2011). The collection includes a recording of a recital performance of the sonata at Curtis performed by cellist Orlando Cole, who premiered the sonata accompanied by Barber himself. On the recording he is accompanied by Vladimir Sokoloff, and Cole was by that time on the Curtis faculty. The anthology album, however, also includes a brief spoken introduction by Cole, reflecting on personal impressions of the music. Cole was still on the faculty when Kim arrived at Curtis, and it was through Cole that Kim came to know Barber's sonata and eventually record it.

As a result, there should be no surprise that the piano part is more than mere accompaniment. Nevertheless, all of the expressiveness contributed by the piano serves as just the right complement to the expressiveness of the cello part. In other words Rachmaninoff approached Opus 19 as a conversation between equals, and Kim and Kennard could not have done a better job of conveying the parity of their exchanges.

Taken as a whole, this is anything but a "plain old sonata album;" and the attentive listener will be rewarded by the opportunity to listen to a pair of sonatas, both of which deserve more attention than they have been getting over the last century or so.