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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Violin Sonata in E flat op. 18 (1887) [29:16]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Cello Sonata in G minor op. 19 (arr. for viola by Vadim Borisovsky) (1901) [34:39]; Vocalise (arr. for viola/violin by Yuri Zhislin) (1912 rev 1915) [6:08]
Yuri Zhislin (violin; viola)
George-Emmanuel Lazaridis (piano)
rec. St Mary's Church, Walthamstow, 28-29 January 2005. DDD

It is good to hear again from Yuri Zhislin who won the 1993 BBC Radio 2 Young Musician of the Year competition. He was born in 1974 and studied violin at Moscow's Gnessin School. Both Zhislin and George-Emmanuel Lazaridis appear to be in their element in these two hyper-romantic pieces.

The Strauss is a work of surging tempestuous pathos. The writing has Brahmsian passion with only the merest hint of the capricious Strauss to come. At the time of its writing he was deep in the full score of his tone poem Macbeth; Don Juan was in the offing. It is in much the same spirit as the Violin Concerto which I heard recently in the 1970s EMI recording by Ulf Hoelscher as part of the Brilliant Classics Kempe collection and some years ago with Sarah Chang again on EMI Classics. The finale is at first morose but soon attains considerable grandeur. The heroic songful manner soon returns unleashed in joy with some gorgeous lyrical outpourings as at 3:27 in the finale.

The Cello Sonata of Rachmaninov is here heard as a Viola Sonata and why not? We have heard the Elgar Cello Concerto as a Viola Concerto in the Tertis transcription (Conifer). As note writer Christopher Morley points out, the Sonata shares much material with Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto. This is first heard at the heart of the first movement at 3:31. The allegro scherzando begins with gothic echoes of Die Erlkönig, returning to romantic piano concerto mode at 1:02. The andante is similarly linked with that piano concerto in the contour and rise and fall of its themes. The lanky muscular finale is alive with majestic and triumphant urgency which is well put across by Lazaridis and Zhislin although I do hanker, in the homeric flourishes of the first part, for a closer balance for the viola. The piano writing sounds orchestral - it would not take a great leap of the imagination to hear this sonata as a concerto. I wonder if it has ever been presented as a Cello Concerto! I'd like to know.

After such derring-do we can be pleased to have the soothing Vocalise in yet another arrangement - how many have there been. Zhislin here pays touching attention to dynamics. We should remind ourselves that the Vocalise is the 14th of Rachmaninov's op. 34 songs originally for vocalising soprano. It was in that form dedicated to Antonina Nezhdanova. The Zhislin arrangement is for violin, viola and piano and where the two instruments play together there is a potent emotional charge.

Zhislin is thankfully sturdy of tone and has ample reserves of virtuosity on which he draws in these two high water marks of romanticism.

Comparisons are inapt. There’s no similar coupling. The viola transcription makes the Rachmaninov unique. As for the Strauss it is a rare piece. As I recall, Chang drew fuller tone from her violin than Zhislin whose violin has a more slender febrile voice. It is good that Somm have supported Zhislin and Lazaridis in this way. We can only enjoy the superb musicianship to be heard here and hope for more.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Jonathan Woolf


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