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Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Suite in the Old Style (1972) arranged by Daniil Shafran
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH ( 1906-75)

Sonata for cello and piano in D minor, op.40 (1934)
Sergey RACHMANINOV ( 1873-1943)

Sonata for cello and piano in G minor, op.19 (1901)
Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
Leonid Gorokhov (cello)
Recorded in The Music Room, Champs Hill, Pulborough, Sussex, 23-24 February 2004. DDD
ASV GOLD GLD4006 [78:17]

The label ASV Gold have released a fine recording of important twentieth century cello works from the pens of three Russian composers. These works span a period of seventy years. It feels apt that the soloists: pianist Nikolai Demidenko and cellist Leonid Gorokhov were both born in the then Soviet Union. Incidentally both Demidenko and Gorokhov are now British citizens.

The thawing of political constraints in the Soviet Union allowed Schnittke to become the doyen of Russian composers of the post-Shostakovich generation. Consequently his eclectic musical language, which combines a number of styles, contemporary and traditional, has since the 1980s become extremely popular in the West.

Schnittke composed the Suite in the Old Style in 1972 and drew a great deal of the material from several of his film scores. This five movement suite was originally written for either chamber orchestra or violin and piano and is presented here in Daniil Shafranís arrangement for cello and piano. Schnittke adopts a tender pastiche of an earlier age in which soloists Gorokhov and Demidenko fully enter into the sweetly melodic spirit of the score displaying excellent musicianship throughout.

Composed in 1934, following swiftly on the heels of the Piano Concerto No.1 op.35, Shostakovich wrote the Sonata for cello and piano op.40 for cellist Viktor Kubatsky who was his co-recitalist at that time. A far cry from the composerís experimental and dissonant works that caused him severe censure from the Stalinist regime, the four movement Sonata for cello and piano successfully exploits the cello's manifold qualities.

This early chamber work is one of the composerís most lyrical scores, rich in melodic interest yet typically explores a dark emotional side. I particularly enjoyed the duoís performance. This is strong on irrepressible good spirits and playfulness in the tongue-in-cheek Rondo which closes the work. These are lovely and most natural performances of the Sonata for cello and piano from Gorokhov and Demidenko and they stand comparison with the best. Although this is a fine interpretation I would not wish to be without the excellent 1946 version from Daniil Shafran on cello and the composer on piano. This is coupled with the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata, on the Russian Revelation label RV10017.

Rachmaninovís magnificent four movement Cello Sonata of 1901 dates from the period immediately following the rapturously received Second Piano Concerto. In 1897 Rachmaninov had suffered a nervous breakdown and had successfully consulted Dr. Nikolai Dahl who was an amateur cellist. It is thought likely that the composerís interest in the cello was heightened as result of his association with Doctor Dahl. The Cello Sonata was written by way of showing his gratitude.

Rachmaninovís Cello Sonata is imbued with optimism and its final pages have been described as "triumphantly life affirming." This brooding and passionate music is perfectly communicated through the lyrical and sonorous sounds of the cello complemented by the expressive piano part. Cellist Gorokhov gives a highly alert and confident interpretation of great character. As fine as this performance is I marginally prefer, for its immediacy and increased authority, the 1956 version from Daniil Shafran and Yakov Flyer on the Revelation RV10017.

Obtain this marvellous ASV Gold recording and you will surely find yourself eagerly anticipating the next release from Gorokhov and Demidenko.

Michael Cookson

see also review by Ian Lace


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