Bloch, Bruch, Kotova

Nina Kotova, cello
Constantine Orbelian, conductor
Philharmonia of Russia

ERNEST BLOCH Prayer, From Jewish Life, No. 1 / 4:05
ERNEST BLOCH Schelomo -- Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra / 20:22
NINA KOTOVA Concerto for Cello and Orchestra / 29:28
MAX BRUCH Kol Nidrei -- Adagio for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 47 / 9:46

"There is an expression in Russian that speaks very directly to the Russian character -- svetlaya grust," says Nina Kotova. Literally "light sadness," the phrase captures one of those elements that sets the musical tradition of Russia apart from that of continental Europe. From Glinka to Stravinsky and Kabalevsky to Shostakovich, this "light sadness" manifests itself actually as an extraordinary range of moods that rarely occur outside of Russian music. Others can compose playfully, of course; others can touch us with profound expressiveness. But as Nina Kotova demonstrates in both her composition and her performance, Russian musicians seem singularly inclined to bring the playful and the poignant, the funny and the serious, the "light sadness" all together into a single piece.

Consider how Ms. Kotova describes her cello concerto, premiered with The Women's Philharmonic under the direction of Apo Hsu in 2000: "From pagan Russia to the Young Pioneers!" she says, laughing. And yet she is not entirely joking: Deep memory is another ingredient in the Russian character. Eight hundred years ago, the Tartars overran Russia from the East, altering the culture forever; at the age of 10, Ms. Kotova was a Pioneer, the old Soviet equivalent of a girl scout. In this cello concerto, her personal story is coupled with the great sweep of history. Indeed, one has only to enter the opening movement to discover these joined tales. The trumpet cue at the very start springs, the composer says, from her guileless days in the Pioneers, and the second theme speaks of the Eastern influence introduced into Russia by the Tartars in the 13th century.

These are the kinds of things we need to bear in mind as we hear Ms. Kotova's concerto. It is, first and foremost, a Russian composition, though she has lived in the United States for some 12 years now. Her memory, her sense of history, her experience of musical tradition are all inspired as much by the moguchaya kuchka ("the mighty handful" that included not only Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Igor Stravinsky's mentor) as by her father, a celebrated bassist who first introduced her to the world of music at a young age.

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Copyright © 2004 Moscow Chamber Orchestra.