Russian Music for Cello and Piano
Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Cello Sonata No 2 in A minor, Op 81 [23:18]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Etude Op 8 No 11, arr. Piatigorsky [4:09]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Musica Nostalgica [3:27]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Adagio from Ten Pieces from the Ballet Cinderella, Op 97b [3:56]
Sergei RACHANINOV (1873-1943)
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op 19 [34:01]
Wendy Warner (cello); Irina Nuzova (piano)
rec. 27-30 October 2008, Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio, WFMT Radio, Chicago, Illinois, USA
CEDILLE CDR 90000 120 [68:49]
Wendy Warner is one of our most intelligent, cultivated cellists, and after praising her superb recital of romantic pieces by David Popper and Gregor Piatigorsky, I was ready to lend an ear to whatever music she chose to offer next. As it happens, this new full price recital of music by Russian composers is less immediately accessible, and less showy. In the long run, though, it may prove even more rewarding.
The big change from the last disc is that Warner has a new recital partner, Russian pianist Irina Nuzova. The pair seem absolutely ecstatic to have come together; one line from their booklet blurb had me pitying Warner’s former pianist, Eileen Buck: “Cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova achieve a rare artistic synergy in performance together. The melding of the musicians’ contrasting cultures and traditions is at the core of the energy and insight of their interpretations.” Except that this actually seems to be true. Nuzova has contributed a commendably smart and enthusiastic essay to the booklet introducing the recital’s centerpiece: Nikolai Miaskovsky’s Cello Sonata No 2.
It is not a demonstrative sonata. In fact, as Nuzova says with great precision, “something that does not glitter can still be gold.” Unshowy and lacking in the stereotypically “Russian” traits of vibrant rhythm and bright colors, the sonata actually feels closer to Brahms in its gentle, matured melancholy. Nuzova even supplies a poem, “Wordlessness” by Konstantin Bal’mont, which perfectly captures the spirit of the sonata: “Deep quiet. And wordlessness, utterly peaceful. / The meadows spread out faraway and forever. / In everything - weariness, muteness, and bleakness.”
Not a piece that glitters, then. But with each listen I have found it more rewarding, as an undemonstrative, unsentimental look back at an earlier time. The comparison to Brahms looms large in my memory; it is autumnal music which draws you in over time.
The Rachmaninov cello sonata is a work which glitters as the Miaskovsky does not. Wendy Warner has quite the personality as a cellist, so the piece does not, as it sometimes does, sound like a piano sonata with cello accompaniment. Warner and Nuzova’s romantic style, with flexible tempi and gorgeous sweeping phrasing, is a perfect fit for this music, especially the glorious “big tune” in the finale, and the deeply felt andante, in which we hear again just how strong, and equal, this partnership is.
In between the Miaskovsky and Rachmaninov, we are treated to three short works by three more composers: Piatigorsky’s arrangement of one of the most lyrical (and least hysterical) of the Scriabin etudes, Schnittke’s “Musica nostalgica” with its agile leaps across whole centuries of styles, and a short extract from Prokofiev’s Cinderella. This trio makes a pleasing palate-cleanser between the two main courses.
Clear, intimate chamber-hall sound and the excellent booklet notes by Andrea Lamoreaux and Irina Nuzova - as well as two poems selected by Nuzova - complete the package. My only qualm is about the cover and inside photos; Warner’s previous recital CDs for Cedille and Bridge did not seem to feature photographs as sexualized as these. The duo unfortunately look as though they have spent more time on their makeup than they have on the music - false, of course. Is this the only way to sell Miaskovsky? I hope not.
In the meantime, I will continue to anticipate new releases from the exciting duo of Warner and Nuzova. They are a pair to watch not because they make for attractive album covers, but because they bring skilled, passionate playing to intriguing programs. That’s exciting enough on its own.
A deeply felt recital of a Russian favorite and some works which deserve better renown.
see also review by Jonathan Woolf