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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Sonata for cello and piano, Op. 19 (1901)
(arranged for viola and piano by Vadim Borisovsky) [34.51]
Vocalise Op. 34/14 (1912, rev.1915)
(arranged for viola/viola and piano by Yuri Zhislin) [06.08]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Sonata for violin and piano in E flat major, Op. 18 (1887) [29.16]
Yuri Zhislin (violin/viola)
George-Emmanuel Lazaridis (piano)
rec. St. Maryís Church, Walthamstow, London, 28-29 January 2005. DDD
SOMMCD 046 [70.37]


Somm Records, the independent British label, often provide fascinating and imaginative recordings of unusual repertoire and continue this tendency with this new release.

Under the guidance of his teacher, the conductor Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer, Strauss spent the early part of the 1880s working his way up from two instrument Sonatas through to his first Symphony. Strauss liked to write chamber scores and songs with the purpose of performance at home for family get-togethers, celebrations and musical evenings, where he would play either the violin or piano. It would seem likely that his chamber works were intended for domestic use; rather like a Straussian equivalent of a Schubertiade. A product of Straussís ardent youth the Violin Sonata is an appealing score that proves to be more than a mere off-cut from the masterís workbench.
 
Understandably there is a strong tendency in his early works for Strauss to use classical models as templates against which he could measure his craft. Biographer Michael Kennedy has pointed out that Straussí Violin Sonata is the ďlast of his classically designed works and his last piece of orthodox chamber musicĒ.
 
In three movements the work follows the traditional quick-slow-quick format, opening with a surging movement that soon reveals Straussís operatic leanings. The central movement andante cantabile subtitled Ďimprovisationí begins like a Mendelssohn ĎSong without wordsí and has a strong flavour of the adagio cantabile of Beethovenís ĎPathetiqueí sonata. The final movement soon breaks into a fiery allegro that reminds one of the sweeping lines contained in his tone-poem Macbeth. There are some lively fugato passages interspersed with rich chromaticism.
 
With his Cello Sonata Rachmaninov gave the cello and piano repertoire one of its most popular and imposing scores. In response to claims that the piano part overshadowed the cello part Rachmaninov explained, ďIt is not for cello with piano accompaniment, but for two instruments in equal balanceĒ.
 
The score to the Cello Sonata demonstrates Rachmaninovís exceptionally detailed knowledge of the expressive capabilities of the instrument, a knowledge doubtless acquired with the assistance of his friend Brandukov, to whom the score is dedicated and by whom it was premiŤred. In four movements the cello plays the opening movementís yearning first subject with the piano given the responsibility of carrying the second. In the second movement the grisly tarantella begins gloomily but also brings one of Rachmaninovís most characteristic melodies, at once soothing and aspirational. After the controlled emotional interchanges of the andante, the splendidly affirmative finale anticipates the exhilarating conclusion of Rachmaninovís Symphony No. 2, with some foretastes too, of his Piano concerto No.3 along the way. The arrangement of the cello part for viola has been made by Vadim Borisovsky and these new textures provide a further awareness and appreciation of Rachmaninovís careful distribution of material between the pianistís hands for weight and colouring. It is even more crucial than in the cello original for the stringed instrument not to be overwhelmed.
 
Rachmaninovís Vocalise Op. 34/14 was composed in 1912 and revised three years later as the last of the fourteen of his set of Songs without words. Its melancholy melody, so full of mourning and loss, rapidly made it a favourite with soloists and concert audiences alike. Here in his own arrangement, Yuri Zhislin duets with himself on the violin and viola, which is overdubbed when playing unison, in a tour de force of recording and performing techniques. Zhislinís arrangement, which is in effect a trio, is a highly successful and satisfying composition.

Moscow-born Yuri Zhislin on violin/viola and Greek pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis perform these scores with a committed intensity and a spring-like freshness. The playing from Zhislin and Lazaridis is refined and affectionate, achieving an impressive blend of tone colours. In the Strauss sonata I especially enjoyed their direct and ebullient playing in the contrasting moods of the concluding movement. The viola and piano arrangement of the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata is given a characterful interpretation and I was particularly impressed with their sensitivity in the andante and their controlled power in the finale. In the impressively performed Vocalise the silvery tones of the violin and the velvety timbre of the viola are highly appealing.
 
The performers are quite closely recorded which is just to my taste and I found the clear acoustic to be dry and bright. The booklet notes are interesting and informative, although I cannot agree with the authorís assertion that the cello/piano repertoire is ďlimitedĒ. A cello enthusiast friend of mine is currently putting together a database, that already contains a couple of hundred works for cello and piano.
 
An excellently performed release of highly attractive romantic chamber works. With clear sound and balance throughout, this collection deserves a warm welcome.
 
Michael Cookson

see also review by Jonathan Woolf 

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