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Russian Cello Sonatas
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Sonata for Cello and piano in g, Op. 19 (1901) [35.43]
Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14 (1912) [6.14]
Two Pieces, Op. 2 (1892) [10.13]
Nicolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in d, Op. 12 (1911, rev. 1930) [19.41]
Truls Mørk, cello Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
Recorded St George’s Church, Brandon Hill, Bristol, UK, 11 June 1994.
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in d, Op. 40 (1934) [28.24]
Unico Wilhelm van WASSENAER (1692-1766) arr. Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) and Samuel DUSHKIN (1891-1976)
Suite Italienne for Cello and Piano (1932) [17.59]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in C, Op. 119 (1949) [23.43]
Truls Mørk, cello
Lars Vogt, piano.
Recorded in Eidsvoll Church, Eidsvoll, Norway, 10 May 1996.
Notes in English, Deutsch, Français.
Previously released as 45119 and 45274.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 7243 4 82067-2 5 [71.57 + 70.14]

 

 

Comparison Recordings:

Rachmaninov Sonata: Yo-Yo Ma, Emmanuel Ax, Sony SK 46486

Rachmaninov Sonata: Lynn Harrell, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Decca 414 340-2

Shostakovich Sonata: Rostropovich, Shostakovich. (ADD) Multisonic 31 0179-2

Stravinsky, Suite: Lydia Mordkovich, violin; Julian Milford, piano. Chandos 9756

Prokofiev Sonata: Rostropovich, Richter (ADD) EMI 72016

On first hearing this disk, one is struck by the beauty of the cello tone throughout. On second hearing, one notes that the Rachmaninov and Shostakovich works stand out clearly. On third hearing, this distinction evaporates and one realizes that the quality of all the works on the disk is first rate, that the Miaskovsky, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev works are equally worth the attention, and that the Shostakovich and Rachmaninov works are merely more familiar.

The Rachmaninov work was written at the time of the Second Concerto between the First and Second Symphonies, and is clearly, in my opinion, an unsuccessful sketch for a symphony. As Brahms before him did with his Op. 34, Rachmaninov turned a failed symphony into a successful chamber work. However, in the final analysis the work is a little too symphonic to be great chamber music just as it is not quite symphonic enough to be a great symphony. This performance is somewhat on the crisp side; the Harrell and especially the Ma performances, which are more lyrically Romantic, are more enjoyable in the slower movements, but this only further emphasizes the distance between the original symphonic concept and this sonata arrangement. Both approaches are valid, and the work is fine enough that you’ll want to hear it played several different ways.

Those who hold to the view that Stravinsky retired from composing in 1913 point to the ballet Pulcinella (1920) and the Suite Italienne arranged from it as proof, claiming that the work is not even an arrangement of music (purportedly) by Pergolesi, but simply Pergolesi copied out with wrong notes. What is most amazing is how durable and engaging the Stravinsky work is in its orchestral, cello and piano, violin and piano, and, eventually, violin and cello versions. I have several versions of the originals by Wassenaer, but I’d rather hear the Stravinsky versions any time, wrong notes or no.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710 - 1736) wrote one sensationally popular opera, then fell ill from consumption. While in hospital he wrote his well known Stabat Mater and then died at the age of 26. To satisfy the market for his scant repertoire of original music, some marvelous sonatas by an amateur musician, one Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer, published anonymously in Holland after being performed by the violinist Carlo Ricciotti, were ascribed by an Italian publisher to Pergolesi. They sold very well, and only recently has their complicated genesis come to light. Hence, Pulcinella and the Suite Italienne are in fact after Wassenaer, not Pergolesi. The rumor that Suite Italienne was commissioned by Gregor Piatigorsky is, so far as I can discover, not correct.

Prokofiev’s sonata is one of his last works in which his style became very introverted and ruminative. This change in style led to charges that others were writing his music for him, as those who did not understand the music felt it was of lower quality. Due to diminishing energy, Prokofiev relied on students and friends to copy out full scores from his shorthand musical notes, but the power and originality of the music are all Prokofiev. The route to understanding late Prokofiev lies through Mahler.

The Shostakovich work on the other hand is a very early work, melodic and accessible, rich with his pre-war optimism, but not his abrasive quirkiness. From its first performance it was acclaimed a masterpiece, and was even recorded on 78 RPM records, an all-but-unheard of honor for a modern chamber work at the time. In contrast, the Sonata No. 1 was never heard outside Russia.

The composer-approved Rostropovich versions of the Prokofiev and Shostakovich works are in old Soviet-era analogue sound and it is a pleasure to have these excellent digital versions as well.

Prokofiev met Miaskovsky in school and the two men remained fast friends for life. Their music diverged considerably in style with Miaskovsky writing more conservatively, but with an individual flavor. Their music also diverged in quality, with the starkly original Prokofiev clearly the greater talent. Miaskovsky’s music in general suffers from probably unconscious borrowings from other music he has heard, but when he has enough original material, as here, the result is a fine work that can hold its own in this concert, certainly well worth hearing.

Paul Shoemaker

 

 

 

 

 



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