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
The recorded sound is immediate; a little dry on disc 1, and slightly
more resonant on disc 2. Decent booklet notes complete a fine
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
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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