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Julian Rachlin - Chamber Music

Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) arr Dmitri TZIGANOV
Ten Preludes from 24 Preludes for Piano, Op.34 (1933) [15:17]
Ludwig VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.7 in C Minor, Op.30 No.2 (1803) [26:00]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Viola Sonata, Op.147 (1975) [40:47]
Julian Rachlin (violin, viola), Itmar Golan (piano)
rec. Teldex Studio Berlin, 25-28 November 2004. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 61949-2 [41:17 + 40:47]

This double CD was evidently intended to be a single, well filled one, but Rachlin's spacious account of the Shostakovich Viola Sonata pushes the programme's playing time just beyond the capacity of a normal CD.  Deutsche Grammophon would no doubt have stretched the capacity, as they did with their recent disc of Taneyev's chamber works.  Warner Classics has instead opted to offer the full recorded programme on two short discs for the price of one.  In truth, it does not really hurt that the Shostakovich sonata has a disc to itself.  It is such a dark, enigmatic work that you will probably want to digest it in isolation.
The recital opens, on disc one, with a selection of ten preludes from the set of 24 which Shostakovich wrote in the wake of his great success with Lady Macbeth (and before his roasting in Pravda).  The preludes are a quirky romp through the cycle of major and minor keys, following Chopin's rather than Bach's scheme.  On first listening, I found this selection of ten preludes less than satisfying.  Perhaps this was because I had the composer's own arrangements of four of them, as played by himself and Leonid Kogan, resonating in my mind's ear.  Rachlin has a lighter, thinner tone than Kogan and Golan sounds a mite too comfortable.  However, repeated listening has made me warm to these performances.  Rachlin may be lighter, but his playing is very characterful.  He spins these little vignettes with humour and just a little tragedy.  This is like listening to Kafka for violin and piano.
The performance of the Beethoven was much more to my liking on first listening and remains so.  Rachlin and Golan deliver and interesting and thoughtful performance of this sonata.  Rachlin pours all sorts of colours from his violin bow and shapes each phrase carefully.  His playing can seem overly fussy, as with his side-of-bow micro-management of tone in the scherzo.  Things improve once more for the finale, though.  Golan has improved since his earlier collaborations with Vengerov for Warner's Teldec imprint.  He still has a tendency to burble along under the violin, but for the most part, he phrases sensitively and maintains a dialogue with his associate artist.  This is not a first choice performance, but a characterful one and well worth hearing for anyone who loves this sonata.
After “interval” (i.e. on disc 2) Rachlin switches instruments and delivers another thoughtful performance, one of great power and wounded beauty.  It is as if he sees the sonata as a blighted landscape, to be explored and absorbed slowly.  Like Pinchas Zukerman, Rachlin moves between violin and viola with ease.  He has a lighter tone as a violinist and the viola seems to give him added warmth, which he uses here to full advantage.  He colours this performance in various shades of grey, as befits the sound world of Shostakovich's final musical statement.  In a nutshell, this is introspective music inwardly played.  I have always been a fan of Tabea Zimmerman's performance on EMI, but Rachlin's version is a viable alternative.  Where Zimmerman is emotional, Rachlin stops time.  I wouldn't want to be without either recording.
I am glad that Warner Classics was able to release this disc before being closed down as a recording label.  Rachlin's performances, especially that of the Shostakovich sonata, demand to be heard.  I hope that Rachlin will be signed by another recording company.  I am concerned that he may not be, for the simple reason that he is musician first, and virtuoso second.  He has all the tricks and technique, but puts them at the service of the music he plays.  The very quality that makes him an insightful guide to great music is the thing that makes him less marketable than lesser, flashier fiddlers. 
The recorded sound is immediate; a little dry on disc 1, and slightly more resonant on disc 2.  Decent booklet notes complete a fine release.
Rachlin is playing the Shostakovich sonata on his Australian tour later this year as part of Musica Viva's season celebrating the Russian composer's centenary.  On the strength of this performance, I have bought my tickets.  Go and do thou likewise – if you can.  Either way you should buy this disc, play it through and shake your head in sorrow that Warner Classics will never record its like again.
Tim Perry


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