More Than Songs of Isolation
Andrea Casarrubios: Sonia (World Premiere) – SEVEN
Carlos Simon: Silence (New York Premiere)
Quenton Blache: Ne (East Coast Premiere)
Stephanie Ann Boyd: Alleluia Olora
Kevin Day: Sonata
Thomas Mesa (Cellist), Zhenni Li‑Cohen (Pianist)
T.Mesa /Z. Li-Cohen
“The range of the cello is so big, it can play as low as the double bass and as high as the violin. It has the perfect shape, and its sound is the closest to the human voice.”
The star of last night’s “Here and Now” concert in BargeMusic wasn’t even present. But the great Spanish cellist/composer Andrea Casarrubios was represented in music, influence and–most of all–in spirit. It started with Ms. Casarrubio’s opening World Premiere onto music from two composers she had commissioned to celebrate “Songs of Isolation, dedicated to the Covid First Responders.” Her second work, SEVEN, was a New York celebration of the 7pm applause from New York windows to the heroes of the time.
Her influence on the young, zesty cellist Thomas Mesa was palpable. His playing was only momentarily reminiscent of the great stolid older generation of cellists. Yes, he could be mournful, dark (more on that later). Yet his numerous recordings and his choices last night were piquant, youthful, at times purely terpsichorean.
The spirit of Ms. Casarrubio was apparent even in the “older” work of Nadia Boulanger, the spiritual mother of virtually every 20th Century composer. And certainly in the final work, a beautifully filigreed Sonata by Kevin Day.
Altogether an homage to a master of her instrument.
As well as to Mr. Mesa’s partner, pianist Zhenni Li‑Cohen. No wilting flower accompanist, Ms. Cohen showed equal exuberance, enthusiasm and command of her instrument.
Admittedly, part of my attendance was as penance for avoiding Friday night shabat services these many year. Avoid it or not, the cello is the most Hebraic of instruments in sound. I had the feeling that even that fervent Lutheran J.S. Bach may have gone to a few Weimar synagogues before his Cello Suites, just as Lutheran Max Bruch used the cello for his Jewish prayer Kol Nidre.
And yes, Ms. Casarrubio’s opening Sonia, and Carlos Simon’s Silence, part of the “Songs of Isolation”, one felt that orthodox trademark of the instrument. Rather Sonia was autumnal, meditative, intense. Silence for solo cello, was equally intense, ending in ferocious finger‑work by Mr. Mesa.
One often hears that string quartets are conversations. Quentin Blache’s Net was like a delicious conversations from a happy schizophrenic. That is, Mr. Mesa’s cello talked to itself, treble against bass, strings conversing, laughing, crying. One felt like we were interrupting an intimate–-almost literal–colloquy.
Before the intermission came a rarity for both performers. For eight decades, Nadia Boulanger taught every (not virtually every, but every)–20th Century composer. Her sister wrote beautiful choral work, but Nadia here confined herself to three lovely pieces, played with dazzlement by the two. The first was obviously Impressionistic with a muted cello. The second has some interesting cello fingerings. But last? It could have been a Hungarian frenetic dance, as much Eastern European as the so‑Gallic Ms. Boulanger.
Stephanie Ann Boyd’s Alleluia Olora, one of the “Songs of Isolation,” was a paean of emotion and desolation. What I had never heard was the cellist double‑bowing a single theme in microtonal separation, taken with insouciant ease by Mr. Mesa.
Andrea Casarrubio’s SEVEN ended with those seven gong‑like notes, the applause heard on the Covid nights in New York.
Finally (outside of a Saint‑Saëns “Swan” encore) Messrs Li‑Cohen and Mesa joined for Kevin Day’s wonderfully crafted Sonata, a work which celebrated nothing except cello and piano. The three movements were composed by a man sure of his feelings (agitated, slow, playful) and his craft.