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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor (1901)
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

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

Suite in the Old Style (1972)
Leonid Gorokhov (cello); Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
Rec. The Music Room, Champs Hill, Pulborough, Sussex, England, 23-24 Feb 2004
ASV GOLD GLD 4006 [78:17]

Reasonably well-known, Rachmaninov’s beautiful, deeply-felt and immediately accessible Cello Sonata was composed in the winter of 1901 just after his famous Second Piano Concerto. It shares the haunting melodic characteristics of that work. The two Russian soloists Gorokhov and Demidenko are nicely balanced and poised. They deliver lucid and fluid, poetic and passionate performances; beautifully phrased but without undue sentimentality. The work has been recorded numerous times but I will return to this recording time and again with great pleasure.

Shostakovich’s attractive and approachable D minor Cello Sonata is quite uncharacteristically romantic. It was composed in 1934 just after his First Piano Concerto and at a time when he was going through a personal crisis. Soon after his marriage, he fell in love with another young woman; his wife discovered his secret and threatened to leave him. The opening movement reflects the turbulence of personal passion, one can imagine longing, anguish, remorse and guilt beside tender romantic feelings - all these emotions are communicated with sympathy and compassion. The closing pages have Rachmaninov-like sentimentality crushed by harsh, regimented chords. The second movement is more outgoing: a quirky, jazzy mix of dance and march with an extraordinary central section that has the cello engaging in sul ponticello effects with some very odd glissandi. The affecting Largo slow movement opens very solemnly with the cello’s melancholy and, perhaps, remorseful figures penetratingly questioned by cold piano chords that only reluctantly, partially melt towards the end of the movement. A powerful reading this, probing deeply. The finale begins wryly and continues sardonically, the music strongly propelled forward by dance rhythms.

Alfred Schnittke’s five-movement Suite in the Old Style is just that – a sequence of charming, sweetly melodic, neo-classical confections. It is based on music that Schnittke had written for films. The opening ‘Pastorale’ is a gentle, wistful piece with slowly rocking figures. ‘Ballet’ is busier, more energetic with folksong-like material (used for a film about a dentist!). ‘Minuet’ and ‘Pantomime (fifth in order) are elegant and dainty, rococo in style. The Bachian ‘Fugue’ (for a film about a crooked athlete) is bracing and racy. The soloists show us all the fresh enchantment of these little gems.

Poised, polished, poetic and passionate performances of beautiful, accessible Russian chamber works. Warmly recommended.

Ian Lace

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