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Feeling and Fiddle-Shticks

New York
08/13/2021 -  August 14, 2021
Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata for Solo Violin n° 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003 (First two movements)
George Rochberg: Caprice Variations (16-odd selections)
Eugène Ysaÿe Sonata for Solo Violin n° 5 for Violin, Opus 27 N° 5

Daniel Kogan (Violinist)

D. Kogan (© Courtesy of the artist)

Rochberg would lie on his couch, dreaming each variation, out, his eyes closed. When he was sure that each variation was worked out, entirely in his head, without an ink-stroke in sight; then and only then, would he leap up, like Archimedes vaulting out of his bath…rush to his desk and write it down.
Peter Sheppard Skævard (Violinist and colleague of the composer)

To play the violin is rather easy, it is even banal. But to feel, to palpitate, to make vibrate–not the instrument but the soul of the instrument...that power cannot be acquired: it is a gift of God.
Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931)

A gift of God, or–in the case of Daniel Kogan–a gift from noble lineage. For the Family Kogan in Russia (and the world) is synonymous with fiddles and batons as the Family Barrymore is to acting, and (obviously) the Family Bach to music. Daniel is the grandson of Leonid Kogan, related to conductor Pavel Kogan and pianist Emil Gilels, with various aunts and uncles as pianists and conductors.

In fact, I joked with him, before his so challenging recital in BargeMusic last night whether his family had forced him to play the violin, that he actually longed to be a window-washer or dog-trainer. He shook his head, “No.” Virtuoso violin playing was not Ysaÿe’s “gift of god”, but the obvious inheritance of Family Genius.

Daniel Kogan, raised in Canada with studies in Russia, is genial, cordial, his talks before the–tragically sparse–audience last night were descriptive, knowledgeable and gave a sunny portal to three solo violin works that would stress the strings and the mind of any soloist.

Perhaps it was mind over matter in the opening of Bach’s Second Sonata. The Prelude was rightfully slow, the lines were clean, but one felt that Mr. Kogan was lacking in that oh-so-vital masquerade of improvisation. It was controlled, flawless and all too straight.

Yet once Mr. Kogan started the Fugue movement, one heard immediately the meaning of such care. This was Bach’s originality at its highest. Granted, the Bach strings (on an equal level) made double– and triple-fingering fractionally easier. Mr. Kogan, though, brought a clarity to each of the fugal lines. One wasn’t so much stunned by his playing or enraptured by a romantic fervor, but mesmerized by a clarity to each of the voices, a near-quantum appreciation of the mathematics of Bach.

One imagined that Glenn Gould would have offered the same kind of precise weight to each of the lines.

Following this were 16 (or perhaps 14 or 15) selections from the hour-long Heraclean violin challenge of George Rochberg’s Caprice Variations. And what an unassuming title for the 40 or 50 variations on Paganini’s caprice, popularized by everybody from Rachmaninoff and Brahms to Lutoslawski and Webber.

In this case, Mr. Rochberg gave us layer after layer of meaning. I had heard it only once on YouTube. (I don’t know anybody who would play the entire thing in a concert hall, though they should.) Then it was a guessing game who the composer was bringing into the mix. Was he imitating Brahms? (Yes, a few times.) Mozart? (One of Mr Kogan’s selections had that simple tune.) I haven’t heard that Stravinsky was listed, but one of these selections had a percussive Stravinsky sound.

Rochberg also grouped these variations in various diatonic and atonal series’. He connected them somehow, quite studiously, adding a shrieking variation where Mr. Kogan let himself go!

So many moods, styles and fiddle-shticks that the young artist was able to offer multi facets–or multi diamond facets in this glittering performance.

If this wasn’t enough, Daniel Kogan played one of Eugène Ysaÿe’s demanding solo violin works. Unlike George Rochberg (who couldn’t play the violin), Ysaÿe was one of the towering violin recitalists. And with the Fifth Sonata–which he meant to be “rustic” or “autumnal”–he went all the way with quarter-tones, endless portamanto, pizzicati, tricks for left and right hand.

Still, the Fifth Sonata could have been written by early Mahler. The first movement showed us the sun rising, with sounds (actually plucks) of insects. After, we had almost a Mahler rustic bumptious dance. Though the complexity–played again with joy and delight by Mr. Kogan–would befuddle any country dancer.

By the way, those who might have avoided a solo-violin recital will certainly appreciate two violins and one piano in works by Telemann, Locatelli, Shostakovich and more. The resonances of Daniel Kogan with Mark Peskanov should make the Barge shake, rattle and roll.

Harry Rolnick



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