Fiddling with Castanets:
Deanna Blacher (castanets)/ Neville Cohn (piano)
reviewed by John Meyer
Following on from their very successful concert last year, Deanna Blacher and Neville Cohn again combined their remarkable talents in an entertaining October recital entitled Fiddling with Castanets. The programme consisted of piano works by the famous Spanish composers Enrique Granados and Isaac Albéniz, including popular pieces such as Andaluza (Granados), Asturias and Cadiz (Albéniz), as well as some that are not as well known.
It would have been well worth attending the concert just to hear Neville Cohn draw such stylish and absorbing sounds from the Callaway Auditorium’s Steinway. But his playing was greatly enhanced by Deanna Blacher’s skillful use of the castanets, complementing not only the rhythmic impetus but also the melodic contours of this very appealing Spanish music. Theirs was a coordinated understanding, obviously honed over many years of practice and performance together, and for which no praise could be too great.
Blacher also contributed informative comments about castanets and the various pairs she chose to use – including a “fat” pair sent to her from a maker in Seville, which helped to project the strong sound required to match Cohn’s robust playing in Sardana by Granados.
On a lighter note, Cohn kept the audience entertained with delightful anecdotes about the two composers who had completely different experiences on trans-Atlantic sea voyages. Granados drowned when his ship was torpedoed in the English Channel in 1916, while he was returning from the successful premiere of his opera Goyescas in New York – allegedly taken under by the weight of the gold bars which he received as payment, and which were strapped in a belt around his waist. On the other hand, the child prodigy Albéniz stowed away at the age of twelve and paid his way by playing the piano each evening in the first-class saloon of an ocean liner – and then in a New York bar, astonishing patrons by tickling the ivories with his back to the keyboard. At one stage, Blacher played with her hands behind her back – but not surprisingly, Cohn did not!