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Arkiv Music

Russian Cello Sonatas
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
Sonata in G minor Op.19 (1901) [35:46]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891–1953)
Sonata in C major Op.119 (1948) [23:20]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975)
Sonata in D minor Op.40 (1934) [26:59]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934–1998)
Sonata No.1 (1978) [25:06]
Marc Coppey (cello); Peter Laul (piano)
rec. Auditorium Saint-Pierre des cuisines, Toulouse, July 2005
AEON AECD 0636 [59:06 + 52:05]

These Russian cello sonatas span almost the whole of the 20th century, and all loom large in their respective composers’ output. They are reasonably well-known and quite often recorded, either together or separately. All contain some of the finest music these composers ever penned. Finally each carries a deeply personal, intimate message, often reflecting some intensely private concerns. Rachmaninov’s large-scale Sonata in G minor Op.19 is a warmly romantic, at times troubled and anguished work. The outer movements are both the weightiest and the most complex, and frame a nervous, whimsical Scherzo and a nocturnal Andante of great expressive beauty. The final movement brings the sonata to its vehement conclusion.
Shostakovich’s imposing Sonata in D minor Op.40 is roughly contemporary with the Fourth and the Fifth Symphonies, and has much in common with the Fifth. The movements’ layout is very similar: a moderately fast, long opening movement, a short ironic Scherzo, a darkly lyrical slow movement and a deceptively lively, often mischievous Finale. Miaskovsky, among others, was deeply impressed by the music’s eloquence and emotional depth. As in many other chamber works of his, Shostakovich managed to express deeply private concerns without attracting the regime’s opprobrium. One has to keep in mind that the roughly contemporary Fourth Symphony was withdrawn during the final rehearsals, and that the Fifth Symphony (“response of a Soviet artist to justified criticism”) seemed – at least superficially – to be closer to some dictates of the Soviet regime, although it is clear that the music goes much deeper than this and remains highly personal.
Prokofiev’s return to the Soviet Union did not bring him the fame and comfort he may have expected. In any case, he too was not untouched by the Zhdanov manifesto, so that his final years (after World War II) were not altogether happy. This is rather clearly reflected in the Cello Sonata’s first movement with its abrupt changes of moods. The other movements are comparatively simple in design: a lively Scherzo with a more lyrical central section and a joyous Finale capped by a beautiful, albeit wistful coda briefly restating the opening theme of the first movement. During the composition of his Cello Sonata, Prokofiev often consulted a young Russian cellist, who was to make quite a formidable reputation later, none other than. Mstislav Rostropovich.
Schnittke’s First Cello Sonata may be one of his most popular and most performed chamber works. This is a big-boned piece in which the composer succeeds in keeping his at times too single-minded polystylism under strict control. The music is strongly lyrical, in Schnittke’s own personal manner, and often rather understated. The central Scherzo has more than a touch of biting irony, and is the only movement in which the composer indulges in his usual polystylism. He does this for expression’s sake, which is not always the case in several other pieces of his. However, the First Cello Sonata is deeply serious and deeply felt.
Recordings of these works are certainly not lacking in number; and there exist many fine readings of these important and substantial works (see below). Coppey’s and Laul’s readings belong amongst the finest. Coppey’s beautifully varied, firm tone is a joy from first to last, and Laul supports his partner with commitment and immaculate playing. The recording is first rate too. So, in short, a very fine release that may be safely recommended.
Hubert Culot


Arkiv Music


Comparative reviews
Shostakovich & Rachmaninov - Gorokhov, Demidenko/ASV
Shostakovich & Rachmaninov - George, Portugheis/Guild
Schnittke - Wallfisch, York/Black Box
Prokofiev - Ivashkin, Lazareva/Chandos

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