This is a generously-filled disc of Russian cello music featuring
a Borodin rarity and two masterpieces, the Rachmaninov and Shostakovich
sonatas. Everything is played sensitively and with great style
by Chaushian and Sudbin.
The disc begins with the Rachmaninov sonata, a four movement
work completed a few months after the Second Piano Concerto.
In similar vein to the concerto, this is a lyrical piece in
the grand style. As one might expect the pianist has a virtuoso
part, and it is this that causes balance problems in performance,
with the cellist easily drowned out. Chaushian and Sudbin give
the work a searching performance which emphasises its cantabile
qualities. Chaushian plays with great beauty of tone, with a
particularly singing legato. His playing avoids expressive slides
for the most part, the few that he indulges in being tastefully
done. His balance with Sudbin is not always ideal, however,
and I found myself wishing he would force his tone a little
more to “cut through” the accompaniment.
Chaushian’s duo with Sudbin always feels secure, the two players
always sounding “on the same page” artistically. I felt at times
that their rubato was a little on the luxurious side, at the
expense of dramatic tension. Nevertheless the first three movements
are beautifully done. A slightly disengaged feel creeps into
the Finale, compositionally the weakest of the four movements,
before the players rouse themselves for the concluding bars.
At 35:27 this performance is about 4 minutes slower than Rostopovich’s
1959 performance with Alexander Dedyukhin, which clocks in at
31:51. Interestingly, Chaushian and Sudbin are exactly 3 minutes
faster than Sonia Weider-Atherton and Imogen Cooper from
2001. This last is still the best recording I have heard for
balance. The only criticism I have of this performance is that
the Russian duo loses momentum occasionally, making them seem
somehow slower than they actually are. However, this rhythmic
freedom certainly suits the expansive Romantic style of the
Alexander Borodin was a gifted amateur cellist, and the cello
part of his String Quartet no. 2 in particular reflects his
interest in the instrument. The Cello Sonata in B minor is rather
an oddity. The work has only survived in fragmentary form; the
present performance is of a completion by Michael Goldstein
published in 1982. Inspired by the G minor Sonata for unaccompanied
violin by J. S. Bach, the first and last movements are quite
Bachian in style. The work is really a series of episodes, quite
pleasant in themselves, that could as well be three encores.
Chaushian and Sudbin navigate its rather shallow reaches with
expertise; the cellist in particular sounds more relaxed than
he had in the Rachmaninov, with a considerably less virtuosic
piano part to contend with.
Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata is a much more interesting and substantial
work than the Borodin. The composer’s first important piece
of chamber music, it starts gently, but this mood soon gives
way to a characteristic mixture of nightmarish foreboding, lamentation
and sardonic humour. Chaushian and Sudbin respond to its challenges
with a ratcheting up of the dramatic tension that was occasionally
lacking from their approach before. The imaginative dimension
of their playing is strong; the knocking in the bass at the
end of the first movement suggests an early morning visit from
the KGB. The cello harmonics in the second movement slither
eerily, and the Largo has a grave simplicity. Chaushian at last
sacrifices some of his tonal beauty for a more edgy sound.
This is a fine performance of the Shostakovich Cello Sonata,
one that stands up to the composer’s classic 1957 account with
Rostropovich. That recording, together with the First and Second
Concertos of Shostakovich and the Cello Sonatas by Dmitri Kabalevsky
and Karen Khachachurian, was issued by EMI Classics in a 2 CD
set called Rostropovich: the Russian years EMI CZS 5
72295 2. Interestingly there is a timing quirk with this sonata
also. Rostropovich recalls that, when recording the work with
the composer, they played it rather faster than normal because
it was a fine day and Shostakovich wanted to visit a friend
in the country. This must have had a particular effect in the
finale, but elsewhere the timings reveal theirs to be the more
The final work on the disc is the Vocalise by Rachmaninov.
This work was originally written as part of his Fourteen Songs
of 1912, and has undergone arrangement for numerous instruments.
It is heard here in the transcription by Anatoly Brandukov for
cello and piano. The Russian duo’s performance of this standard
is very good; Chaushian phrases the long-breathed solo with
great dexterity, and his beauty and variety of tone is impressive.
The sonics throughout are up to the usual high BIS standards.
Fans of the Russian cello repertoire will enjoy an expansive
performance of the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata and a cracking account
of the Shostakovich Cello Sonata.