Nina Kotova and Oliver Poole, review: Opus Theatre, Saturday, May 18

It is not often an international artist comes from a Carnegie Hall series to play in Hastings but such was certainly the case last weekend when cellist Nina Kotova came to the Opus Theatre for an intimate concert with Artist in Residence, pianist Oliver Poole.

Saturday, 25th May 2019, 7:49 pm
Nina Kotova and Oliver Poole. Picture by Jonathan Bruce

The house was very comfortably full for an evening of indulgent romanticism, spiced occasionally with less familiar works to keep us on our toes.

They opened with Schubert’s Impromptu No3 where the cello’s warm, sensitive phrasing was to become the hallmark of the evening.

Cassado’s arrangement of Frescobaldi’s Toccata in D major followed, highlighting the sensuous cantabile lines from the cello while allowing Oliver to underpin the bass line while quietly singing along to it.

Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile was the first really familiar piece which, like Massenet’s Meditation from Thais in the second half, raised a sigh of gentle recognition from the audience with the opening bars.

Rachmaninov’s writing for the duo allowed Oliver to indulge his love of romantic pyrotechnics while the cello line floated wistfully above it. The first half ended with an arrangement of two songs from Porgy and Bess, bringing a wonderful sense of a gently sparring relationship between cello and piano.

I have long regarded the chaconne or passacaglia as potentially the finest form in music, and Vitali’s Ciaconna demonstrated this with acute and timely ease. There is a sense of eternity to the form so that even as each section develops there is never any indication of time or narrative. The piece only ended when the musicians slowed to show us we were coming to a stop – the music itself could have gone on for ever.

The rest of the programme was given over to pieces of more immediate emotional impact.

Cassado’s Dance of the Green Dragon has some interesting oriental touches while Pollo Piatti’s beautifully soulful Lullaby for a Clown has an inherent yearning which is very moving.

Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel seemed an ideal point of reflection. The gentle lines passed seamlessly between the soloists, before Piazzola’s Le Grand Tango brought a fiery conclusion.

Oliver Poole is known to us all for his improvisatory skills and while the Piazzola score is fully written out it has a grandiose improvisatory quality, to say nothing of extrovert dash and excitement, which obviously suited his temperament and urged Nina’s splendidly fiery cello line to match his.

An encore was essential and we were brought gently down to earth again with the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria.

This was the last of the current World Series at the Opus, but the autumn will bring new events and new artists. With this international standard we will look forward with real enthusiasm.

Four shows to see in the Hastings area. Click here to find out more.