Though the pressing
and copyright year is noted as 2006
this is not a new release, Gasparo having
originally released this unusual and
unlikely pairing on GS 270C. I donít
know the date of recording though it
would have been better for the company
to have acknowledged an exact year.
As it is one notices a relatively high
level of tape hiss in the Villa-Lobos,
perhaps less so in the companion work,
but sufficient to wonder whether any
remedial work has been carried out on
the master tapes; apparently such work
has, but itís not a really satisfactory
state of affairs.
Enough of the technical
concerns, what about the performances?
Well Laufer and Swedish prove to be
upholders of the linear tendency in
Rachmaninoff playing. Not for them the
dank and weepy byways, the Turovsky-Edlina
school of wringing every drop of emotion,
every furtive tear, from this sonata.
No, these are serious minded and straight-down-the-middle
men. Laufer in fact has a stringent
and rather military approach to tempo
and to the dictates of architecture
generally. Even in the slow movement
he proves reluctant to countenance the
kind of expressive shading, the shaping
of dynamics, accelerandi and decelerandi,
and the use of finger position changes
to make emotive points. He is, so far
as I can tell, at the opposite end of
the spectrum from Turovsky when it comes
to matters of expressive content. Everyone
else will sit somewhere between these
The Villa-Lobos is
a strange one. Iím a big admirer of
the chamber works, the extensive series
of string quartets in particular and
the late chamber works still have a
wonderful avidity and warmth to them.
But that doesnít much come across in
the Second Sonata; or at least not in
this performance. Steven Swedish proves
his chops are in fine form in the quite
demanding piano opening and thereís
warm lyricism in the flowing slow movement.
But despite the evocative extroversion
of the finale and the folk-inflected
rhythms of the scherzo itís a performance
that doesnít really excavate the full
measure of the sonataís passion.
These then are rather
lean and occasionally impersonal performances,
variably and closely recorded. At their
best they offer the rewards of clarity
and a certain judicial detachment.