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WORKS FOR CELLO AND PIANO BY SCHNITTKE AND SHOSTAKOVICH
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998) Cello Sonatas No.1 (1978) and No. 2 (1993/4)
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) (Viola) Sonata Op.147 (arr. Shafran) (1975); Moderato (1934); Adagio (from two pieces, 'Ballet Suite' No.2) (1951).
Raphael Wallfisch, cello
John York, piano
Recorded St.George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 22nd April 1998 (Schnittke) and Champs Hill, Pulborough, 28th June 2000 (Shostakovich).
BLACK BOX BBM1032 [77.59]
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This recent release from Raphael Wallfisch and John York couples works for cello and piano by Shostakovich and the man many regarded as his "spiritual" heir, Alfred Schnittke. The music is, with perhaps one exception, deeply melancholic, though also often strikingly melodic, and grips the attention from start to finish. Schnittke's often commented upon irony and polystylism are notably absent here and his two cello sonatas plumb emotional depths that definitely justify the decision to showcase this music alongside that of Shostakovich.

The first sonata is a three-movement piece with two elegiac Largos, the first short, the other much more extended, framing a central, more agitated Presto. When taken as a whole, it strikes me as easily some of the best music I have heard by this composer. The five movement second sonata is, by its very nature, more fragmented and closer to what I previously understood Schnittke to be about. John York's illuminating notes describe it as being "starker and stranger" than the first essay in this form and I would concur with this assessment. The music is at times phantasmagorical and it is not difficult to imagine the state of mind of the then seriously ill composer when he composed it.

The main piece here representing Shostakovich is a transcription for cello of the valedictory Op.147 Viola Sonata, unconventionally beautiful music in this or any other setting, and without question the utterance of an artist well aware of his impending demise. It is also, however, at times a peaceful, almost resigned piece and, in the final Adagio, with its quotes and allusions to much other music, Moonlight Sonata included, provides what I can only describe as a transcendental experience. I believe that other reviewers have questioned its inclusion in this version but I know that I shall return to it many times in the coming months. However, the sonata probably ought to have closed the disc because the two slighter pieces that follow, especially the romantic ballet Adagio (which seems to be an incongruous inclusion anyway), gain nothing from comparison with the great emotion that has gone before. Even in its folk inflected sections, the sonata operates on a totally different emotional level to these makeweights and, along with the superb second Largo of Schnittke's first sonata, this performance makes the disc an important one and more or less an essential purchase.

Neil Horner


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