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Mark Kosower
St. Petersburg Times, April 2010

Kosower has a marvelously rich sound. He is a forceful interpreter of demanding works like Dohnányi’s Sonata and Rozsa’s Toccata capricciosa. Oh brings authority to the repertoire as a former assistant to János Starker, the great Hungarian cellist.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, January 2009

The Dohnányi sonata has had a number of recordings, not least by the first class Kliegel and Jandó on this same label (Naxos 8.554468)...The Naxos team of Kosower and Oh take a rather more broadly sculpted and extrovertly projected view of the outer movements of this Brahmsian opus. Tonally they’re broader and rather more communicative as well and their recording is brighter and more immediate. This pays perhaps the most dividends in the B section of the scherzo where they phrase with really lovely refinement…Kosower proves a most impressive exponent of this late Romantic work—poetic, refined, with a wide range of tone colours at his disposal. Jee-Won Oh is an adept and virtuosic partner. Together they are a rhythmically and tonally estimable duo.

The Bartók is better known in its guise for violin—it was dedicated to Szigeti and later transcribed for cello and piano by the composer. The duo dig into the fiss dance of the second part with eventful dynamism, its devilish, tussling animation being properly conveyed; they play the so-called alternative ending. The Liszt receives a measured, slightly austere reading; its monastic atmosphere is pleasantly pervasive. Popper, scion of the Hungarian cello school is represented by two of his pieces. The Mazurka was a favourite of Casals’ and he recorded it on acoustic 78s as indeed he did the Serenade, which was dashingly down set by Feuermann as well—to name two of the giants. More recently Maria Kliegel has recorded them adeptly.  Dohnányi turns up again in the shape of the evocatively shaped Ruralia Hungarica, which is better known, in string incarnation, in its version for the violin—as is also the case in Kodály’s Adagio. Fine dynamics and a keening edge in this latter performance. The fireworks of the Rósza, a tripartite piece that rockets deliriously into life in its last section ends a winning recital. The recording level is finely judged.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, December 2008

This selection of Hungarian cello music from cellist Mark Kosower and pianist Jee-Won Oh spans a compositional period of a hundred years dating from 1874 to 1976. The disc comprises of nine works that range from Dohnányi’s challenging Cello Sonata to salon pieces from David Popper to the haunting sounds of Liszt’s Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (The Nonnenwerth Cloisters). 

The opening score on the release is Béla Bartók’s First Rhapsody for cello and piano cast in two movements that he composed around 1928. This rugged and rather extraordinary music employs extensive elements of the folk melodies of Transylvania. Here Bartók is displayed in a reasonably accessible light compared to the progressive nature of the innovative sonorities and driving rhythms found in many of his later scores, that many still find challenging today. In the first section marked Prima parte one is struck by the folk infused and often complex rhythms. The mainly vivacious Seconda parte is played by the duo as exciting foot-tapping, folk-dance music. 

The score Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (The Nonnenwerth Cloisters) is Franz Liszt’s arrangement for cello and piano from the 1880s of his beautiful song of the same name (S.274) set to a Felix Lichnowsky text. Liszt also made arrangements of Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth for solo piano and also for violin and piano. Formerly a Benedictine nunnery and a Franciscan convent Nonnenwerth is a small island in the Rhine where Liszt holidayed for three summers in 1841-43. Biographer Alan walker describes Liszt’s Nonnenwerth sanctuary: “A half-ruined convent, a chapel, and a few fishermen’s huts were now the only dwellings. The convent was run as a small hotel, but there were hardly any guests. It was an ideal summer retreat.”A 

Liszt wrote comparatively few chamber scores and Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth is acknowledged as one of his finest in the genre. The interpretation of this impressive score convincingly communicates a sense of mystery and solitude in the safe haven that was Nonnenwerth. Kosower’s successful choice of tempi resists the temptation for an interpretation of sprawling languidness. In recordings of Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth I remain an advocate of the beautifully shaped performance from Norman Fischer and Jeanne Kierman, from Houston in 2002, on Bridge Records 9187. Another engaging and sensitively performed interpretation of Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth is from the duo of cellist Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough released in 1995 on RCA Victor Red Seal 09026 68290-2. 

David Popper was one of the finest virtuoso cellists of his time and also a renowned teacher. He did write a considerable quantity of works, principally for the cello, including a number of arrangements and transcriptions of the works of other composers. The combination of cello and piano was Popper’s much preferred instrumentation. Popper is represented on the disc by two short works that suitably display the range and versatility of Kosower’s instrument. 

Popper’s Mazurka was written around 1874 and is the last of three works in his Op. 11 set of pieces for cello and piano, a characterful display piece featuring the Polish dance. The Serenade, the second of Popper’s set of 5 Spanish Dances for cello and piano, Op. 54, is another virtuoso piece infused with the flavour of Spain. 

An early work composed in 1905 Zoltán Kodály’s Adagio was originally scored for viola and piano. In the Adagio, a melancholic lament, the distinct influence of the late-Romantic world of Brahms predominates. I experienced little of the individuality of the progressive sound world of Kodály’s later works.  

Ernő Dohnányi is also represented on the disc by two contrasting scores. The Ruralia Hungarica, Op. 32d from 1923 was originally written as one of a set of seven pieces for solo piano. This is a fascinating and attractive score so infused with the marked influence of traditional Hungarian music. 

Dohnányi’s formidable four movement Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 8 is an earlier work from 1899. Designed in the great late-Romantic tradition of Brahms the Sonata is an epic journey, bursting with thrills and spills along its course. The varying moods of the score aptly display the glorious timbre of Kosower’s cello with sturdy piano accompaniment by Jee-Won Oh. 

The opening movement Allegro ma non troppo satiates with artistry containing a strong Hungarian flavour. In the brilliantly virtuosic Scherzo the listener encounters high voltage playing with a brief section of calm reflection providing a temporary respite and I enjoyed the soothing slow movement of a nocturnal feel. The extended closing movement is a theme and set of nine variations. Of a keen Brahmsian quality the score is varied in style containing a wealth of colours. 

Miklós Rózsa is renowned as the prolific composer of over 100 Hollywood film scores, most notably for the score to the 1959 epic ‘Ben Hur’ starring Charlton Heston. It was in 1976 that Rózsa composed his Toccata capricciosa, Op. 36, a fantasy for Hungarian themes, for the eminent cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Scored for solo cello the work is cast in a single movement yet one can detect three distinct sections. This lively and richly virtuosic showpiece contains a hauntingly meditative central section and the score concludes with progressively frenzied and intense playing. 

The gifted duo of Mark Kosower and Jee-Won Oh hardly put a foot wrong on this release demonstrating impressive virtuosity and remarkable musicality. I was struck by Kosower’s watertight technique and the tonal warmth of his cello. Recorded in the Beethovensaal in Hanover the Naxos engineers deliver first rate sound quality. Mark Kosower has found the time to write the interesting and informative essay in the booklet.

Laurence Vittes
Strings Magazine, November 2008

Cellist Mark Kosower follows up his Ginastera recital for Naxos with this brilliant and generous Hungarian recital. There’s the sugary, in the form of two charmers by Popper and a lyric by Liszt; the late Romantic in the form of Dohnányi’s huge Op. 8 Sonata; and the conservative modern, in the form of Bartók’s thrilling First Rhapsody and Rozsa’s busy Toccata capricciosa. The music allows Kosower to showcase his stunning virtuosity, passionate intensity, and elegant phrasing. No wonder that when I interviewed János Starker last year, he singled out Kosower as a young cellist to watch. The Dohnányi Sonata is the highlight in a large, sweeping performance that makes you wonder yet again why it’s not heard in the concert hall, or recorded, more often. Pianist Jee-Won Oh is a superb partner in crime. The recording has the kind of audiophile quality that only occurs when performers and engineers are on the same wavelength. Like many of Starker’s best recordings, the quality of this whole enterprise seems to increase exponentially as the volume is turned up.”

Colin Anderson, July 2008

Mark Kosower is a superb cellist; a virtuoso who serves music with personality and resourcefulness. Jee-Won Oh (born in Seoul) is equally adept and characterful. They make a fine team.

Mark Kosower is a cellist to be reckoned with—both musically and technically and he also commands a wide range of colour and levels of emotion. To complete a top-notch release, Kosower has written a very readable note for the booklet.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2008

Here’s a generous tour through cello music from the most famous Hungarian composers over the past hundred and fifty years, though most works were not originally intended for that instrument. From Liszt;s Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (The Nonnenwerth Cloisters), a work originally for voice and piano, to Rosza’s 1976 virtuoso showpiece, Toccata capriccioso, at the heart of this disc, and its most substantial piece, is the Dohnanyi’s Sonata in B flat minor dating from 1899. The disc opens with Bartok’s arrangement of his First Rhapsody written for the great violinist, Joseph Szigeti, and soon after its completion transcribed for cello and piano. It takes well to both instruments, the folk-song idiom well served by Bartok’s pungent harmonies. Another violin transcription comes from Kodaly in his Adagio, composed when he was twenty-three, its rich feel of melancholy totally different to the composer’s more familiar works. Dohnanyi’s Ruralia Hungarica started life as a piano piece, but he subsequently orchestrated much of the work, also setting the final set of seven pieces for cello and piano. Born in 1843, David Popper was one of the great cellists of his day, writing works to showcase his technique. His Mazurka whizzes around the instrument, while the Serenade brings the lyric elements of the instrument to the fore. Soloist Mark Kosower, one of the outstanding cellists of his generation, certainly displays an admirable technique, a generally accurate ear for intonation, and an avoidance of cheap showmanship even when the opportunity is offered to him. Of course, the unaccompanied piece by Rozsa has a virtuosity built into it, and Kosower does not shortchange us. He plays a magnificent 1701 David Tecchler instrument that can sing as eloquently as any you will encounter. He is partnered with an innate musicality by the Korean-born pianist, Jee-Won Oh, now resident in the States, her playing exemplary throughout. Sound quality and balance between artists is all you could wish for.

Mike D. Barownell, July 2008

Performed by cellist Mark Kosower and pianist Jee-Won Oh, this well-programmed disc is dedicated to Janos Starker and György Sebök, two musicians whose playing virtually defines the Hungarian idiom. Like their dedicatees, Kosower and Oh play with immense precision in intonation, articulation, phrasing, and dynamics. Kosower’s playing is pleasingly lucid in even the most rapid of passagework and is filled with a warm, velvety tone.”

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