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Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Cello Sonata in G minor Op.65 (1846) [30:46]
Sergei RachmaninoV(1873-1943)
Cello Sonata in G minor Op.19 (1901) [34:58]; Vocalise Op.34, No.14 (1912) [8:19]
Alexander Kniazev (cello); Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
rec. 3-6 July 2006, The Maltings, Snape. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 63946-2 [74:06]

The Rachmaninov and Chopin cello sonatas are frequent partners on disc, indeed there must be a couple of dozen of these pairings available at the present time. However, this is a first pairing for the two soloists Alexander Kniazev and Nikolai Lugansky. Each has however previously recorded works of Chopin and Rachmaninov - in Kniazev’s case the Rachmaninov Trio Élégiaque No.2 and the Chopin cello sonata. Lugansky has issued several Chopin recordings and has recorded most of the Rachmaninov piano music, both solo and concerted.
Chopin’s Cello Sonata is a late work and shows an increasingly firm command of varied material. While both artists seem to have a good overall conception of the opening Allegro, they take time to warm up emotionally and Kniazev seems rather tentative. Lugansky on the other hand generates enough drive by the end of the movement.  In both the Chopin and the Rachmaninov the second movement is the scherzo. Lugansky plays beautifully in this movement and after a little more tentativeness so does Kniazev. His playing of the trio of this movement is first-rate: thoughtful, but romantic. Kniazev continues well in the Largo, producing a beautifully articulated flow of melody. The finale could be more deliberate, but Kniazev does some beautiful work in the lower register that I found impressive. A somewhat uneven performance, but with many excellent individual parts.
Like Chopin, Rachmaninov did not write a great deal of chamber music, although he just managed more than one trio. The cello sonata dates from just after the composer’s long depression after the failure of the First Symphony - indeed it follows the 2nd Piano Concerto which brought an end to that sad period of the composer’s life. While there is plenty of the concerto’s melancholy in the sonata, it is under more control and the composer seems to be harking back to the emotional and rhythmic organization he had shown in the 1st symphony. Kniazev seems to understand this. The first movement shows him very assured in handing all the elements of the allegro. He excels with some sequential passages in about 8 minutes in and a little later in some playing in the slower register. Rachmaninov’s scherzo is not a strict one and both artists bring a relentlessness to it that is impressive at the same time that they make each recurrence of the countersubject more beautiful than the last. Their account of the slow movement is not as impressive, becoming stolid towards the middle, but the movement ends well. The last movement sees Kniazev and Lugansky back in the form they showed in movement two, with the main theme beautifully played in its different appearances. As a filler or encore we have the famous Vocalise in a thoughtful and non-sentimental performance.
The recording quality on this disc is typical of recordings done at the Maltings - good in terms of closeness to the instruments, not so good in terms of a somewhat wooden sound. As mentioned above there are many recordings of these two sonatas. This particular disc will appeal to listeners who want a thoughtful approach to the works rather than a virtuoso or a sentimental one.
William Kreindler



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