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Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Cello Sonata No. 1 in D major Op. 12 (1911) [18:52]
Cello Sonata No. 2 in A minor Op. 81 (1938) [20:49]
Cello Concerto in C minor Op. 66 (1944) [29:38]
Alexander Rudin (cello)
Victor Ginsburg (piano)
Musica Viva Orchestra/Andrei Golovin
rec. 1981, 1984, 2003.


This particular sequence of works has become almost popular. There are identical couplings on Arte Nova (Kyrill Rodin) and on Olympia (Marina Tarasova). The two sonatas and the concerto produce a respectably-filled CD. The grouping has all the merits of a single composer collection.

The two sonatas come from opposite ends of Miaskovsky's career. The Op. 12 work is pre-Revolutionary, from 1911, and is akin to the Rachmaninov sonata at one moment and to the Delius at the next. Both Cellos Classics players have a good feel for dynamics and variety. Rudin's purple tone is ample and rich in damask and satin. The long, freely liberated line and the hat-doffing to Rachmaninov remain in place for the Second Sonata from 1949 - the year of Miaskovsky's death. This has a typically generous-hearted theme instinct with melancholy, fibrously singing qualities, elegiac feeling, tender dreaminess (andante) and hectic virtuosity unleashing a lyrically-driven passion. The Second Sonata was written for Rostropovich who premiered it on 5 March 1949 and later recorded it for Melodiya. The latter is included along with Rostropovich's recordings of the First Sonata and the Cello Concerto on EMI's now deleted 'Russian Years' box.

Kyrill Rodin (Arte Nova) takes a minute longer than Rudin but this approach works well enough. Andrei Pisarev is an extremely accomplished accompanist; very much the equal partner in his grasp of the tenderness required. They both produce a fine reading of the nostalgie of the Second Sonata. Tarasova at 22.51 laps up every opportunity to coax and dwell on the detail in the First Sonata. This continues into the Second Sonata at 23.51. Their approach may well appeal although the ambience of Studio 5, Moscow Radio makes the piano sound boxy.

The Cello Concerto was written between the years 1938 and 1944. It bridges the Stalinist years between the Berlin-Moscow Axis and Operation Barbarossa when, buoyed by Blitzkrieg victories elsewhere, Hitler turned on his 'ally'. By 1944 the Soviets had taken the war into German and Berlin awaited.

The Concerto is in two movements: Lento ma non troppo and Allegro vivace - the arc of the work is essentially slow-fast-slow, rather like the Delius and Moeran violin concertos, the latter a contemporary of this Miaskovsky concerto. Another work, occasionally hinted at, is one of Bax's least successful - his Cello Concerto.

The orchestra for the Miaskovsky is to exactly the same specification as that for Brahms' First Piano Concerto. Indeed Brahms' autumnal mood and his monumentalism can be heard from time to time as in the second movement at 14.03.

The Concerto was written for Sviatoslav Knushevitsky a cellist from the generation just prior to Shafran (who stayed at home) and Rostropovich (who travelled). Rostropovich it was who gave the Miaskovsky Cello Concerto international wings. His recording was made with Sargent and the Philharmonia (EMI Matrix 20 - 7243 5 65419 2 4). More of that anon.

Rudin plays the Concerto with utmost poetic tenderness and without any sense of mere noodling; listen to the transition at 6.54. After the nightingale elegies of the first movement we come to a more energetic episode however the propulsive energy is largely carried by the chattering orchestra (woodwind and strings). The cello line is always prone to the elegiac strain and soon Miaskovsky returns to the magnetic pull exercised by the songful slowness of sweetened loss. He largely dispels this as at 4.13 and 7.26 (echoes of the Dvořák) but that tawny singing core remains omnipresent. It is no surprise that the work ends in unequivocal contentment - sunlight radiating kindly through a honeyed mist and dappled leaves. The composer treads that fine and slippery line between sentiment and sentimentality.

The competition for the Cello Concerto comes from several sources - some now deleted. Julian Lloyd Webber recorded the work in 1991 for Philips with none other than Maxim Shostakovich. This was on 434 106-2. The London Symphony Orchestra are put through their paces at an extended pace. This gives 12.49 and 19.08 as against Rudin's 11.09 and 18.52; not much of a difference in the second movement. The orchestra has a bigger sound than on the Rudin version. It is a very refined and slender thing, By contrast Rudin’s tenderness is mixed with a sense of blood and sinew and flesh.

The Sargent and Rostropovich version is even quicker than Rudin's and still sounds pretty good for March 1956 ADD. This clocks in at 10.58 and 16.58 and has that vintage ebony and quicksilver cello tone that is such a Rostropovich hallmark. If you like your Miaskovsky fleet of foot then this is for you. The downside is that the sun-basking repose of the final pages is diluted somewhat. I wish I could have compared this with Rostropovich's ‘Russian Years' recording. It's a set I have been looking for at the right price.

DG recorded Rostropovich pupil, Mischa Maisky in the Cello Concerto in 1996 with the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Mikhail Pletnev. This is on 449 821-2. The Concerto recording times out at 29.41; about the same as Rudin. Maisky's reading blazes with character and bids fair to be the best going. The DG recording captures the orchestral canvas and the solo instrument with impact. The Russian orchestra's Slav ‘signature’ is still there - not quite as vibrant as it used to be, diluted somewhat by cosmopolitan practice and instruments but still clear.

The most recent and current version is the one from Chandos coupled with the last Miaskovsky Symphony, the Twenty-Seventh. There the soloist is Chandos regular, Alexander Ivashkin. He is joined by Valery Polyansky in a glowingly burnished and autumnally coloured performance - all damasks and sable. Polyansky's readings defy his teachers' proclivities (Oddissey Dimitriade turned in at least one very fine Glazunov recording and Rozhdestvensky's exuberant music-making is always rewarding). Polyansky, by contrast, tends towards the rhapsodic or slow=soulful school. Some of his Glazunov symphony offerings have suffered accordingly. On the other hand his Chandos recording of the Taneyev symphonies is outstanding (CHAN 9998). Here he takes two more minutes than Rudin and Maisky. I have to say that the whole thing sounds gorgeous when contemplative (and there is a lot of that mood) but a shade steady-as-she-goes when meant to be vibrant. Ivashkin responds in kind and the final few minutes which has the cello trilling away like an echo of the finale of Bax Symphony No. 7 works undeniably well. This is the most emotional recording of this work ever.

If the Philips recording of Lloyd Webber gives the impression of dwelling peacefully on every note what will you make of the Arte Nova with exactly the same coupling as Cello Classics. This Rodin (Arte Nova) version plays for 36.49 ... an incredible seven minutes longer than Rudin and almost ten minutes more than Rostropovich. Rodin's vibrato in the final pages is less effective than the sustained pure tone of the competing versions and does not move in the same way as Ivashkin's on Chandos.

The Tarasova was issued as Olympia OCD 530. Her version of the Concerto with the Moscow New Opera Orchestra conducted by Yevgeny Samoilov is on the fast side at 27.54 if not quite as quick on its heels as Rostropovich and Sargent. Tarasova is well attuned to the soulful core of this work but also aware of the need for forward movement. Where she is at a disadvantage is in the raw unassimilated tone of the orchestra. She is not as nimble as, and is more effortfully angular in her delivery than, Rudin, Rodin or Rostropovich. This is a good performance, doing no disservice to Miaskovsky, but she is out-pointed by the best of the competition.

Rudin’s Cello Classics recording is agreeably transparent: listen to the pizzicato at 2.15 in the allegro vivace of the Concerto. This recording is also satisfyingly documented by Andrew Stewart.

All I would wish to emphasise is that Miaskovsky is not all about elegies and autumns. The Cello Concerto is chronologically bracketed by two of Miaskovsky's finest works - the Symphonies 24 and 25 both of which achieve the highest order of heroic symphonic expression.

The favourite version of this coupling.

Rob Barnett

Cello Concerto

Ivashkin - Chandos

Rodin - Arte Nova

Tarasova - Regis

see also

Nikolai MIASKOVSKY A Survey of the Chamber Works, Orchestral Music and Concertos on Record By JONATHAN WOOLF

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