Home » Stories » On Rachmaninov and Barber Sonatas, Jonah Kim and Sean Kennard balance their efforts with vibrancy, nuance, and power / GRAMOPHONE

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On Rachmaninov and Barber Sonatas, Jonah Kim and Sean Kennard balance their efforts with vibrancy, nuance, and power / GRAMOPHONE

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Sergey Rachmaninov and Samuel Barber were both twenty-somethings when they composed their only sonatas for cello and piano. These are works of young firebrands, full of emotional urgency and heightened instrumental challenges, which are met to striking effect in the performances offered on this new recording by the cellist Jonah Kim and pianist Sean Kennard.

All the hallmarks of Rachmaninov's mature style are present in his Sonata for piano and violoncello, Op 19, from brooding lyricism and propulsive fervour to virtuoso flights. It may be telling that piano comes before cello in the work's title, since Rachmaninov, with his seemingly superhuman technique, was at the keyboard for the premiere in Moscow in 1901. So rich is the piano-writing that the danger of the cello being swallowed whole could be a significant concern. But Kim and Kennard balance their efforts judiciously, with the cellist contributing poetic vibrancy and depth amid his colleague's exceptional agility, nuance and power.

Barber wrote his Sonata – titled, also tellingly, for violoncello and piano, Op 6 – towards the end of his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music. Like Rachmaninov, the American composer was the pianist at the work's premiere, in 1933 in New York. Its three movements abound in open-hearted gestures, alternately impassioned, noble and reflective, with Brahms at times gazing over Barber's shoulder. With his pulsating vibrato and intense expressivity, Kim asserts the cello's eloquent personality throughout the varied atmospheres. Kennard brings utmost clarity and shapeliness to Barber's pianistic utterances, which confirm that this composer was also a player of lofty accomplishment.

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