Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
Jonah Kim & Sean Kennard — Rachmaninoff & Barber: Cello Sonatas (Delos)
For cellist Jonah Kim and pianist Sean Kennard, studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia was like being at Hogwarts. They were mesmerized by the spells they could cast every time they learned some new flashy technique. Two decades later, they've grown into musical wizards, and they just released their debut recording. It features the Sergei Rachmaninoff's Sonata for Piano and Cello and Samuel Barber's Sonata for Cello and Piano, two works they first performed while at Curtis.
JK: "We started hanging out. Rachmaninoff actually was the very first piece we played together. So, almost 20 years later, to record this together and especially to record this along with the Barber really makes this special for us."
One of the advantages you both had in studying at the Curtis Institute of Music is you had a rare opportunity to study with the cellist who premiered Barber's sonata, Orlando Cole. He even worked on the composition with Barber, when Barber was a student there. What was that like?
JK: "Studying with Mr. Cole every lesson was like walking into an encyclopedia. First of all, he had this great big blue music chest that he had inherited from Emanuel Feuermann, who every cellists reveres.
"And there was the Samuel Barber pile. He told me the story of the cello sonata and how they hung out at Dover Beach, talked about the themes, what they mean and what childhood was like for them. What it was like with the situation of the war, the draft and all this stuff."
Could each of you share a moment within the Barber sonata that is especially meaningful for you?
SK: "There's one short passage, it's not the most thematically important passage in the first movement, but it's a transitionary passage in the middle of the development, where the cello sustains these very pianissimo notes while the piano goes up and down in kind of spidery arpeggios.
"And I remember when we recorded it, we were trying to just get that to be as soft as possible. And I think we got a very transparent, filigree of sound there that whenever I hear it it gives me the chills.
"And then, of course, the passion of the last movement. There's a second theme in it where I get to play a solo that kind of reminds me of Lawrence of Arabia and that puts a smile on my face whenever I played that and hear it.
JK: "Now, it's so funny that you call it that because remember, Mr. Cole used to call it that, the Lawrence of Arabia. He would make these movie references all the time, because as a child, what else did I know?
"The thing that really sticks out for me is the humility of Mr. Cole. He kind of communicated that to me when he explained the second movement and it didn't matter how many times I tried, there's this rhythm in that section that we could never get. So, on this recording, we made sure to get that rhythm!"
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.