Thursday, 18 July 2013

Rachmaninov and Shostakovich sonatas

Rachmaninov - Cello Sonata, Shostakovich - Viola Sonata, Leonard Elschenbroich, Alexei Grynyuk, ONYX 4116
This new disc on Onyx Classics from the young London-based German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, accompanied by Alexei Grynyuk on piano, gives us a pair of sonatas by Russian composers. Sergei Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata, the last of his chamber music, was written in 1901 and Dmitri Shostakovich's Viola Sonata (in an arrangement for violoncello and piano by Daniil Shafran), the composer's last completed work. The two could not be more different, the sonata by the young Rachmaninov (aged 28) is imbued with the singing romance we know from the piano concertos, whereas Shostakovich's late work is bleak and enigmatic, full of quotations from his own work and other composers.
Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata opens with a Lento  introduction before the main Allegro moderato of the first movement. Elschenbroich plays the opening with a narrow, unfolding tone and a fine elegant line. In the main Allegro moderato he plays with a lovely singing tone, and his dialogue with Grynyuk's piano takes on a very poetic character. The performance is a relatively restrained one, but impulsive in nature with plenty of flexibility to the rubato and never self-indulgent. There are dramatic climaxes and quiet poetry, but this isn't a big Romantic performance and Elschenbroich's tone is fine grained rather than heavily vibrato laden.

For the Allegro Scherzando Elschenbroich brings rather a dark edge to the scurrying passages, rather dramatic moments alternate with finely sung poetic ones. The Andante opens with a lovely romantic piano tune, finely and subtly played by Grynyuk. When Elschenbroich comes in, he too sings. There is again drama and poetry here, with heavy piano textures contrasting to the singing line of the cello, making the movement powerfully evocative.

For the final Allegro mosso we have technical virtuosity and brilliant freedom with a nicely impulsive performance from both cello and piano. The material here evokes memories of the piano concertos. Throughout the work both Elschenbroich and Grynyuk indulge in fine, poetic dialogue, forming a real partnership.

They continue, albeit in a highly different vein, in Shostakovich's Viola Sonata, This late work includes quotations from Shostakovich's own music, the Berg Violin Concerto and, most notably, Beethoven's Moonlight sonata in the last movement.

The opening Moderato is intense, melancholy and very dark. Textures are sparse (throughout the work Shostakovich uses one or two part textures for the piano a lot of the time). This is a deadly darkly serious movement with not trace of the sardonic humour often found in Shostakovich. The spare textures simply evaporate into nothing at the end.

The Allegretto is scherzo like, but very edgy and brittle, not at all fun. Elschenbroich makes the solo part pointed but still low key. The concluding section, with its feeling of instability, has some lovely high playing from the cello.

I am aware that, by playing the piece on the cello even if at pitch, we get a more present, less veiled tone than if it had been on the viol, but Elschenbroich makes a brilliant case for this incarnation of the work.

The last movement opens with an unaccompanied cantilena from the cello, then it develops into a curious, haunting meditation on Beethoven's Moonlight sonata with the piano echoing Beethoven, the cello singing over the top. After something of a cadenza, other material returns for the uneasy conclusion. A masterly performance of a troubling work.

Throughout this review, I have referred to Elschenbroich's singing tone and poetry of his playing, so it is very apt that he and Grynyuk conclude with Leonard Rose's adaptation of Rachmaninov's Vocalise in a magical performance.

This is a masterly disc from two talented young artists, who show us that they can not only sing, but take us to some very dark places indeed.

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Cello sonata in G minor, op. 29 [36.18]
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 - 1975) - Viola sonata op. 147 [33.18]
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943) - Vocalise op. 34, no. 14 [6.39]
Leonard Elschenbroich (violoncello)
Alexei Grynyuk (piano)

Recorded 24-26 November 2012, Potton Hall Suffolk
ONYX 4116 1 CD [76.36]

Elsewhere on this blog:

No comments:

Post a comment

Popular Posts this month