The Brazilian-born pianist Arnaldo Cohen, now living in the United States, has long had a reputation for astonishing his audiences with the musical authority and blistering virtuosity of his performances. His graceful and unaffected platform manner belies playing of white-hot intensity, intellectual probity, and glittering bravura technique bordering on sheer wizardry. Long in demand internationally, Mr. Cohen has in the past few years entered a rarefied echelon among performers in America as well. He is regularly invited to appear as soloist with major orchestras, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His solo recitals everywhere draw enthusiastic crowds of cognoscenti. Critics, too, marvel at his mixture of musical complexity and élan.
“A model of balance and imagination" was Steve Smith’s verdict in his review of Mr. Cohen’s Town Hall recital in The New York Times last season.
"His judicious use of rubato and finely honed sense of dynamic contrast gave each Prelude its own shape and character. Technically flawless in treacherously difficult selections like No. 8 (F sharp minor) and No. 16 (B flat minor), Mr. Cohen lavished no less care on slower, simpler ones. No. 7 (A) was sweetly spun, while No.15 (D flat) was suffused with gentle melancholy…overall Mr. Cohen’s performance was a model of balance and imagination.
Following intermission he offered Chopin’s four substantial, dramatic Scherzos. Mr. Cohen opened and closed No. 1 at a hair-raising clip, but provided needed respite with a melting rendition of the central "Molto Piu Lento". A restless performance of No.3., which combined a Beethoven-like intensity with radiant cascades worthy of Wagner, was followed by a commanding account of No.2, in which brilliant passagework surrounded a patient, poetic rendition of the trio section."
Mr. Cohen performed Brahms’s Concerto No. 1 in D Minor with the Milwaukee Symphony under Andreas Delfs, and was reviewed by Tom Strini of the Milwaukee Journal:
"Cohen performed with the finest silken touch. His gypsy dance opened the finale with an explosion. This concerto has a great many notes in it, but if Cohen missed any, I missed the errors. The combination of technical command and expressive insight he demonstrated Friday is every musician’s goal."
After performing a recital in Philadelphia, Mr. Cohen drew the following praise from distinguished critic David Patrick Stearns of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"Cohen has the smarts, the emotional presence, and the technique of a major Chopin interpreter. That conclusion was evident not just from the Chopin, but from the larger musical worldview that Cohen crafted around the composer. Unlike many similarly exciting pianists, Cohen has built a loyal public with his annual Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concerts by presenting new variations on himself at every visit."
And, in the words of no less a piano authority than former New York Times critic the late Harold C. Schonberg:
"First of all there is his sound -- a burnished, unforced bronze-like sound somewhat in the Rachmaninoff manner. In a day when so many pianists sound bleak and percussive, Cohen produces a big sound that never splinters and is capable of any kind of nuance. He understands the pedals. He has a world-class technique. His playing, color and all, has text-book clarity. And he understands the Romantic style."
After winning First Prize at the 1972 Busoni International Competition, in Italy, Mr. Cohen scored a triumph at the the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Soon after he moved to London and went on to build a repertoire of some 50 concertos and to perform with such orchestras as the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra de la Suisse Romande, and the Santa Cecilia Orchestra of Rome, collaborating with conductors Kurt Masur, Kurt Sanderling, Klaus Tennstedt, and Yehudi Menuhin (who described Cohen as “one of the greatest pianists I have ever heard").
“An underground swell of admiration, if not quite a cult, has developed around this dapper musician", wrote critic Allan Ulrich, “this is a fabulous talent". (San Francisco Chronicle).
As a former professional violinist, teacher of physics, mathematics, cocktail pianist, and avid soccer fan, Mr. Cohen’s unconventional background contributed to the aura of surprise and discovery that attended virtually every one of his public performances a quality that greatly enhanced his success in the major concert halls of Europe and later the United States. Mr. Cohen’s interpretations have been greeted with such sweeping accolades as “magisterial, “thrilling, “intrepid, “exultant, and “trenchant all of which are a metric of Cohen’s extraordinary pianism. In many cases his playing has on different occasions drawn favorable comparisons with the work of such very different artists as Richter, Horowitz, Arrau, Argerich, Serkin, Gieseking, Lupu, and Kissin, a testament to the protean nature of his musicianship and virtuosity. Despite these comparisons, however, Mr. Cohen has developed a voice entirely his own.
Mr. Cohen has performed in solo recitals throughout the United States. One of his recent recitals, in Chicago, ignited the highest praise from John von Rhein, senior music critic of the Chicago Tribune:
"He is the greatest pianist you’ve never heard of. Cohen’s sensational recital added his name to the list of important performers who have made their local debuts before going on to become household names. If there is any justice in the world, he will do the same."
In addition to his recital and orchestral appearances, Mr. Cohen has dedicated himself to the art of chamber music. For five years he was a member of the prestigious Amadeus Trio and he has performed with many string quartets, including the Lindsay Quartet, Chillingirian Quartet, Orlando Quartet, and the Vanbrugh Quartet.
Mr. Cohen is a frequent recording artist. Mr. Cohen’s second CD on the BIS label, an all-Liszt solo recording that includes the B Minor Sonata, Funérailles, Vallée d’Obermann, and Spanish Rhapsody, a disc that has received a flood of accolades:
"This is Liszt-playing on a grand scale, putting Cohen among the greats…Arnaldo Cohen’s playing blazes with the risk-taking, spontaneity and urgency of a live concert…Vallée d’Obermann emerges as an inspired dramatic tone poem, to which Cohen adds the element of white-hot improvisation; he yields little to Horowitz’s famous RCA recording in color and temperament. Cohen mingles narrative and textual clarity with a musical maturity and heady virtuosity in the Richter class."
Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone
"These performances pack a tremendous visceral punch but are among the most musically intelligent recordings of these celebrated pieces to grace the catalogue. Cohen shows how a magisterial Lisztian can shape lyrical content and play up contrasts of texture while shaping a firmly coherent musical structure...There are few pianists who can touch him when he hauls out the heavy technical artillery in ‘Rhapsody espagnole, breathtaking runs, whirlwind octaves and all."
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
"Like Claudio Arrau, Cohen fully savours the dramatic implications (Sonata in B Minor) within slower, rhetorical sequences, yet raises the scintillation factor threefold in the infamous octave passages enough to run neck and neck alongside Martha Argerich’s molten temperament."
Jed Distler, BBC Music Magazine
Last year, BIS released Mr. Cohen’s recording of the two Liszt Piano Concertos and the “Totentanz with the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra. Jeremy Nicholas from the Gramophone stated that "for unapologetic bravura combined with intimate poetry, a complete empathy with Liszt’s intentions and full-blooded recorded sound, Cohen and his cohorts are hard to beat."
Mr. Cohen’s pioneering CD, “Three Centuries of Brazilian Music on the BIS label has also been widely applauded by critics, with Bryce Morrison of Gramophone praising Cohen as “an intrepid explorer and immaculate pianist, and Jessica Dunchen of the International Piano Quarterly commenting, “Arnaldo Cohen’s playing is technically superb and full of the foot-tapping impetuosity of Brazilian dance, but also projects a sense of affection and nostalgia that appeals straight to the heart. So this disc is a triumph on several counts: as a performance, as a manifesto for Brazilian classical music and as a valuable resource to those wanting to explore this overly-neglected repertoire."
Mr. Cohen’s previous recordings for other labels such as IMP Classics, Naxos and Vox, all of which were awarded high praise -- have included classic performances of works by Liszt, Schumann, and Brahms. "I know of no modern recording of the Brahms-Handel Variations that approaches this one", wrote piano authority Harold Schonberg in a review of Cohen’s recording of the work for the Vox label.
An artist of diverse interests and talents, Mr. Cohen began his musical studies at the age of five, graduating from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro with an honors degree in both piano and violin, while also studying for an engineering degree. He went on to become a professional violinist in the Rio de Janeiro Opera House Orchestra to earn a livelihood while continuing piano studies with Jacques Klein, a disciple of the legendary American pianist, William Kapell. At the urging of Klein, Mr. Cohen pursued further training in Vienna with Bruno Seidlhofer and Dieter Weber.
Mr. Cohen is the recipient of a fellowship awarded by the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and until recently held a professorship at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 2004, after living in London for 23 years, Mr. Cohen relocated to the United States and now holds a piano professorship with tenure at Indiana University in Bloomington where, upon his appointment, he was cited as “one of the world’s greatest living pianists".
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