Chanson Vocalise
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19 (1901) [36:25]
Vocalise arranged for cello and piano, (first version, 1915) [7:02]
Viktor SUSLIN (b. 1942)
Chanson contre raison Sonata for solo cello (1984) [11:45]
Ton H for cello and piano (2001) [11:51]
Hyun-Jung Berger (cello)
José Gallardo (piano)
rec. 5-7 January 2011, Concert Hall, University of Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany
SOLO MUSICA SM 165 [67:00]
This Solo Musica release titled consists of three works for cello and piano and one for solo cello. The feature work is Rachmaninov’s justly famous Cello Sonata. With two scores each on the recording Rachmaninov and Suslin were both Russian-born and felt it necessary to emigrate to the West in a quest for greater freedom.
Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata dates from the same period as his famous Piano Concerto No. 2. The score is dedicatedto cellist Anatoliy Brandukov who gave the première in December 1901 in Moscow with the composer at the piano. The opening Lento. Allegro moderato is windswept music that fluctuates in mood from anxiety to delight. Vigorous writing in the Scherzo creates a numbing sense of unease. A contrasting central section is an attractive and glowing cantilena for the cello. The passionate Andante contains much beautiful writing especially the gloriously romantic main melody. This could easily be a musical love letter from the composer. There is a wild and dramatic quality to the Finale. Allegro mosso with the music surging forwards and upwards.
A perennial favourite in the concert/recital hall the Vocalise is a wordless song. Vocalise is the last of the set of 14 Songs, Op. 34/14 dedicated to the soprano Antonina Nezhdanova. In 1915 whilst Rachmaninov was rehearsing the Vocalise with Nezhdanova he made several changes. It is the original version that Berger and Gallardo have recorded here; stated in the notes as its first ever recording. This songful score contains such beautiful melody however I didn’t feel there was sufficient passion in the playing fully to reveal the dark elegiac quality of the writing.
Viktor Suslin was born in the Russian Urals in 1942. Like many artists of his generation Suslin found life difficult under the political and cultural conditions in President Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. In 1979 Suslin and six other contemporary composers were denounced and blacklisted by Tikhon Khrennikov the leader of the Union of Soviet Composers. Shortly after, in 1981 Suslin could face no more discontent and with his family emigrated to Germany. Berger and Gallardo met Suslin at Gidon Kremer’s festival in Salzburg and have become friends often playing his works.
Suslin’s ‘Chanson contre raison’ a Sonata for solo cello was composed in 1984. It is dedicate to Günter Ribke who premièred the score in Lübeck, Germany the same year. Described by Suslin as a “kind of Mephisto Waltz” the Cello Sonata’s title Chanson contre raison (Song against Reason) is taken from a fourteenth century French love song. Suslin requires the soloist to use a series of technical effects and artistic suggestions not uncommon for the time it was written: including Bartók pizzicato;scordatura and harmonics. For the first ten seconds of the score the soloist is required to stare at the audience “with hypnotic gaze”. The score then employs a number of Bartók pizzicato where a string is plucked robustly making it slap the fingerboard causing a thumping effect. Now playing conventionally with the bow the cello conveys a sense of yearning combined with a considerable degree of restlessness. Using the lowest registers a central section has a rich and mellow quality. Suslin’s interesting score begins to close on a calm; almost spiritual note. For the ending forty seconds of harmonics that gradually die away are followed by more composer instructions that require a “visual continuation of the running motion in quavers that cannot be heard. Followed by eight seconds of silence without movement.”

Composed in 2001 the score Ton H for cello and piano inhabits a more conventional sound-world than Chanson contre raison. Suslin named the score after his friend the Russian cellist Vladimir Tonkha and dedicated it to the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina. Right from the opening bars an abundance of anxiety and tension suffuse the writing. This score gives far more emphasis to the rhythmic possibilities of the cello. In the central section long drone-like cello lines take centre-stage followed by an episode of angry discourse between the instruments. From 7:56 the tempo slows with the mood of both cello and piano becoming more contemplative as if surrendering and finding a degree of humane reconciliation.
Throughout there is some lovely and sensitive playing with a restrained grace by Hyun-Jung Berger and José Gallardo. In their responsive partnership they demonstrate a fine unity. They blend effectively and one senses their enjoyment at playing together. Their Rachmaninov was rather too understated. I was left wanting an interpretation that offered additional passion and power to encompass the more dramatic extremes. For some time I have admired the live 1956 account of the Rachmaninov Sonata played by Daniil Shafran and Yakov Flier (Fliyer) on Revelation RV10017 (c/w Shostakovich Cello Sonata recorded 1946). Shafran and Flier feel totally involved in the music giving a performance that is alive with excitement and high contrast. Sadly the sound quality of the Revelation disc shows its age but the performance is remarkable and serves as an excellent benchmark.
Berger and Gallardo are closely recorded in the Concert Hall of the University of Augsburg in Bavaria and I was very satisfied with the clear and well balanced sound. Containing some musical examples the booklet notes are of a good standard. In fact, the overall presentation of the disc is splendid. Glorious music from Rachmaninov presented with two fascinating contemporary scores from Suslin makes this Solo Musica release worth investigating.
Michael Cookson 

Worth investigating.