> CHOPIN, RACHMANINOV Cello sonatas :Walton/Owen [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Cello Sonata in G minor, op. 65 (1847)
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1973-1943)
Cello Sonata in G minor, op. 19 (1901)
Jamie Walton, cello
Charles Owen, piano
Recorded December 2001, Netherhall House, London, UK.


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What these two sonatas have in common, of course, is that the composer of each was also a great and renowned pianist. In the case of Chopin, the vast majority of his compositions were for his own instrument, whereas Rachmaninov, with three symphonies to his credit, for example, was far more wide-ranging in respect of the forms in which he chose to work.

Chopinís sonata was composed towards the end of his tragically short life for the French cellist Auguste Franchomme, and is one of three works by Chopin for this combination of instruments. Itís a most beautiful piece, well worth investigating if you know the composer only for his piano music. As might be expected, the piano part is very involved, but the cello writing is strikingly individual, and the whole piece, unsurprisingly given its composer, is extremely melodic. The short slow movement is particularly touching.

At half an hour in length, this is a big piece, but Rachmaninovís sonata is conceived on an even greater scale. Dating from 1901, it is roughly contemporary with his Second Symphony and even if it is less expansive than that piece Ė it would be exhausting if it werenít Ė it shares pretty much the same mood and sound-world. It begins with a slow introduction full of characteristic Rachmaninov brooding Ė Stravinsky called him "a six foot scowl" Ė and displays a full quota of those ardent, yearning melodies so typical of the composer and so well-suited to the cello. Like the Chopin sonata, it is full of its composerís fingerprints, and anyone already familiar with Rachmaninovís music from other, more widely known works, will recognise him immediately here.

Jamie Walton is a young cellist who studied at Wells Cathedral School and later at the Royal Northern College of Music in the United Kingdom. Let me say at once that his playing here is absolutely outstanding. Technical brilliance is allied to a wonderful singing tone, and the sheer generosity of his playing is quite striking. When the music demands it, notably in some passages in the Chopin, he scales down the sound with similar skill, and indeed he possesses a prodigious range of tone colour. Amateur pianists should beware of their cellist friends inviting them round for "a bit of chamber music". Indeed, if it includes either of these sonatas they would probably be better advised to steer clear. The word accompaniment is totally unsuited to the piano parts here: the piano writing in both works, but especially in the Rachmaninov, closely resembles that of the composerís piano concertos, and a comparable technical expertise is required to play them. Charles Owen rises magnificently to the task, and the result is a true collaboration between two musicians, at once moving and exhilarating. Both instruments are well recorded and given an ideal balance, the piano not at all backward in the sound picture.

The cello seems in the past to have attracted musicians with outsize personalities, and any young player has in some way to find his own place in this assembly. Rostropovich is incomparable, of course, and his version of the Chopin sonata merits the same adjective. There are several rival versions of the Rachmaninov sonata available, a particularly interesting reading being that of Michael Grebanier on Naxos. But the compelling nature of the playing here, and the total commitment of the two musicians make for an unforgettable experience.

Another winner, then, in Sommís new series promoting the younger generation of musicians, altogether unmissable for anyone wanting these two particular works.

William Hedley

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