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Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Cello Sonatas - No. 1 in D, Op. 12; No. 2 in A minor, Op. 81
Cello Concerto in C minor, Op. 66.

Maria Tarasova (cello); Alexander Polezhaev (piano)
Moscow New Opera Orchestra/Yevgeny Samoilov.
Rec 1990s Moscow
REGIS RRC1050 [DDD] [74.58]
Purchase for around £6 from your dealer

A fascinating release, originally issued on Olympia (OCD530): the two cello sonatas come from opposite ends of Miaskovsky's long composing career (they date from 1911 and 1948/9 respectively). Known most often for who he taught rather than what he wrote (Kabalevsky, Khachaturian and Shebalin were amongst his pupils) his own output was left a little behind. His output was large, however, including no less than 27 symphonies, nine piano sonatas and 13 string quartets.

There is a thread of essentially Russian yearning which runs through the First Cello Sonata of 1911 (revised 1930/1). Indeed, there are distinct parallels to be made with Rachmaninov's emotional world: the end of Miaskovsky's Sonata is notable for its touching, melancholy atmosphere. Tarasova is appropriately rich in timbre and displays a wide variety of tone in response to this music. She interacts well with her pianist, Alexander Polezhaev, who seems curiously faceless in the first movement but displays more character as the work progresses.

The Second Sonata (written for Rostropovich and originally planned as a sonata for viola d'amore) is a confident piece of writing which poses many challenges for its interpreters. It was written at the same time as the last two symphonies and the last three piano sonatas. Polezhaev displays more spirit here, and both players are both sensitive and impassioned by turns in the Andante cantabile. Both players warm to the spirited folk-like themes of the finale.

The C minor Cello Concerto is relatively popular, and, like the 21st Symphony, received a Stalin prize. The principal competition comes from Truls Mørk (with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Järvi, Virgin Classics VC5 45282-2) and Rostropovich (with the Philharmonia and Sir Malcolm Sargent on EMI Matrix CDM5 65419-2, originally on HMV ALP1427), but Tarasova gives a convincing, well projected account which can stand its own ground amongst such company without, admittedly, seriously challenging either of them. The force of her personality comes through particularly in the agile cadenza of the second movement, but she also seems very much at home in the elegiac Lento. Miaskovsky's scoring in the first movement is always inventive and often magical, and the orchestral outpourings of the second movement are well delivered by the Moscow orchestra. The recording, without being in any way distinctive, is truthful and clear.

Recommended for the adventurous. This is delightful music which deserves more frequent airing.

Colin Clarke

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