· By Nicholas Stevens

Nina Kotova: Solo Cello | 50 Years of Delos

Somewhere in Germany in the early 1700s, a music director writes six unusual dance suites. In 1890, a Spanish teen finds this music, now obscure, in a shop. Cut to 2023: Bach's Cello Suites rank among the classical tradition's most beloved compositions. It takes openness, vision, and confidence to elevate unfamiliar repertoire the way Pablo Casals did with these works.
With her stunning album Solo Cello, cellist Nina Kotova exhibits these qualities in abundance. Baroque works by Bach, Handel, and the viol virtuoso Marin Marais engage in rich dialogue with 20th-century tours de force by Casals' student Gaspar Cassadó, plus Hindemith and Schnittke. We asked the artist about the album, made with Delos—an American label marking its first half-century in 2023.

ArkivMusic: You have released albums with several labels since your self-titled debut record in 1999, but since 2002, you have returned periodically to Delos. How did your work with the label begin, and what brought you back for your Tchaikovsky album and for this release, Solo Cello?


Nina Kotova: These three recordings are highlights of my recording career. Delos gave me the opportunity and the freedom I needed to choose the repertoire I really love to play and always dreamed of recording.


The release of my Cello Concerto and the Bloch Schelomo was an important moment for me.  I was still very young. The fact that Delos was excited about it and willing to take the risk to release not just a young instrumentalist but a young composer’s work, gave me the necessary confidence to continue my work as a composer and write more music.


The recording Nina Kotova Plays Tchaikovsky represents a milestone of my recording career. The Rococo Variations are one of the most important works for cello and orchestra. It has been with me since day one, and I listened to the recordings and performances of this work since I was a very young student. The music of Tchaikovsky is where the foundation of a Slavic soul lays.


Solo Cello was recorded in the middle of the pandemic. I immediately thought to release it on Delos, and I was very happy when I found out Delos was just as enthusiastic about the project. The recording is a personal project: just the cello, you, the chair, and silence. It brings back to me many thoughts, recollections of people and warm memories of working with my teachers. I vividly remember encountering Alfred Schnittke when I first played this special piece. It was given to me by my former professor Boris Pergamenchikov, and I still have the score which was hand-written on paper by the composer himself.


In my lessons with Boris, he paid a great deal of attention of how to convey literally every breath in the Hindemith Sonata. The Folia by Marais was a part of my learning extensive baroque repertoire in the first years of playing the cello. The Handel and Cassadó came to me later in life, in my twenties. As in nature, there’s sometimes an undeniable "beauty gene" in their landscapes.



AM: One of the brilliant things about your album is the way it alternates forceful single-movement works with internally varied suites. What guided your repertoire selection and chosen recital order on this album?


NK: The Folia is the earliest written work on the album. Its dominates on the cello in its d minor key. The commanding opening theme and the array of the variations are perfect for the opening of the program.


While the Hindemith presents the emotional heights and the sense of controlled freedom of emotion, Schnittke brings the sense of eternal peace at the beginning and at the finishing phrase, linking the work to more earthy pleasures. The harmonies, the work’s dance elements, and the elegant confidence of the Bach C major suite brings the listeners the healing sense of joie de vivre. The program finishes with the exciting arrangement of Handel proceeding from the traditionally-based writing  to virtuoso writing, with its emotion, passion and dance. A recorded album is a celebration of a point of a creative journey.

It is a joy to share a part of not only your own effort but also to share the thoughts of the incredible people who lived long before us and created these works.

AM: You recorded this album in a 16th-century Italian church that remains open to the public as a museum devoted to tulle. Besides the acoustics, did anything about this space inspire you as you recorded? 

NK: The recording studio set in the beautiful church and the tulle museum was a very pleasant surprise to me. The church is located in the tiny Umbrian hill town of Panicale overlooking the historical lake of Trasimeno.

I first saw the studio on the first day of the recording. The wall frescoes, some of which had only portions left, show images and colors not found today. The austerity of the room, the light shining through the very top areas through the windows, the thickness of the walls and the coolness of the October air temperatures inside called for lighting a candle and having a nice cup of coffee in the intermissions.


AM: As reviewers have pointed out (and anyone can hear), you are a supremely confident musician. How long do you spend working out an interpretation of a piece before it is time to record? 

NK: The works I chose to record in this Solo Cello album have been in my repertoire stretching out several decades back to my early school years and to the time I was a student at the music conservatories in Moscow, in Cologne, Germany and in the US.

To me, each work on the program has a personal journey and has its story- the recollections of the process of learning, the warm memories of friendly and creative interaction with my teachers, performing at graduations at the conservatories, and gaining the necessary confidence when performing in concerts.

My daily rehearsing time varies from 15 minutes a day to 12 hours, for the shortest of exercises (taking time to run through scales) to the longest (encompassing a larger portion of a current program). Usually, it is the mental work away from the instrument using imagination that fills up most of the day.




Shop Solo Cello on ArkivMusic


Shop Nina Kotova Plays Tchaikovsky on ArkivMusic


Hear an interview with Delos General Director Carol Rosenberger via Naxos