Ilya Yakushev, pianist
Thomas Mesa, cello
September 17, 2022
Western New Mexico University
Fine Arts Center

What an incredible concert. I had just seen Ilya perform solo in January 2022, so I already knew what a powerful master he was of the piano. I love cello music; who doesn't like a little Yo-Yo Ma in their life from time to time? What really made this evening fantastic though was the duo's choice of compositions.

They began with Beethoven's Sonata #3 for Cello and Piano, which was composed after Beethoven had lost his hearing and when his later works have some melodic beauty that is so different from some of his earlier great works. The duo followed with a piece by a more modern composer, Andrea Cassarrubios – "Silba," her musical version of the ancients' use of whistling to send messages throughout their communities; a very lovely, interesting piece. I heard another new composer, Joaquin Nin, of Cuba/Spain, "Vieja Castilla" and "Murciana" from his Suite Española. This piece really transported me back to Spain and its powerful Flamenco roots. The first half ended with an unusual set up, as the duo performed Claude Bolling's "Gallup" using a pre-recorded soundtrack of percussion and bass that turned the duo into a jazz quartet. Spectacular!

What could I expect in the second half but some seriously good stuff; tremendously difficult and engaging, Rachmaninoff's Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 19. It was great that Ilya prepped the listener with the historical background of Rachmaninoff's drop into deep depression after the dismal reception in Russia of his first piano concerto, but who eventually was revived by a hypnotist that helped pull Rachmaninoff back into the real world. Thank goodness, because this 23-minute piece in four movements was the perfect end to an exceptional performance. As mentioned, I knew Ilya to possess the power of Zeus at the piano, but Thomas is the perfect balance as his command of the cello equals any of the great violinists that attack the strings with virtuosity and force yet draw out such smooth phrasing and articulation.

I had not been to a concert in quite a long time that at the end of the final note, the audience immediately rose to their feet in unison and awarded the duo with a very hearty and well-deserved standing ovation. Thomas and Ilya could not refuse but to give us a sweet encore before exiting the stage to a very satisfied audience. Life is good!

Tom Green
Gila Valley Arts Council
Safford, AZ

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