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Sergey RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor Op.19 (1901)
Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor Op.40 (1934)
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)

Suite in the Old Style (1972) Arr. Daniel Shafran
Leonid Gorokhov (Cello)
Nikolai Demidenko (Piano)
Rec. The Music Room, Champs Hill, Pulborough, Sussex in February 2004 DDD
ASV GOLD GLD 4006 [78:17]

 

This disc is billed as above but starts with the Schnittke and concludes with the Rachmaninov. The ordering seems sensible since it certainly ends on a high. Schnittke’s Suite in the Old Style is much more "Old Style" than Schnittke. This is a series of 5 short pieces within which interest value seems generally proportional to speed (i.e. the faster, the better). The quick movements are entitled Ballet and Fugue, and are placed second and fourth. The concluding Pantomime is also interesting and the ending quite enigmatic. Convincingly played, this is a curiosity but it’s worth an airing.

The two accompanying cello sonatas are probably the greatest Russian works in this genre and a very attractive coupling. Without beating about the bush, I should say now that the Rachmaninov is the best version I have yet heard on disc. In particular, in terms of Russian spirit, it comfortably eclipses both Truls Mørk/Jean-Yves Thibaudet on Virgin and Yo Yo Ma/Emanuel Ax on Sony. Gorokhov and Demindenko are both faithful to the score and completely inside the music. Rubato is used sparingly but tellingly. Despite its fairly short duration, they manage to convince one that the slow movement is among Rachmaninov’s greatest inspirations (which, in my view, it is). The sound is fine and this can be recommended without reservation.

Unfortunately, I would not say the same for the Shostakovich. Whilst, in the other works, the instruments are well-balanced, here the cello seems more forward and Gorokhov’s breathing intrudes quite frequently. But that is a minor consideration compared to the interpretation. To me, this sounds like Rachmaninov’s 2nd cello sonata rather than Shostakovich. In fairness, as Ian Lace implies (see link to review below), for him this is relatively romantic music. But others have shown that this has a tougher side and is among his finest early works, most notably Rostropovich and the composer (not to my knowledge currently available on CD) and Torlief Thedéen/Roland Pöntinen (from the mid-1980s on BIS). As well as over-romanticising the work, this new version seems to lack impetus in the outer movements. The scherzo and largo are much better but cannot rescue the overall conception.

In short, the Rachmaninov is a "hit" but the Shostakovich a "miss".

Patrick C Waller

 

See also review by Ian Lace



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