Britten: Cello Sonatas
It’s fitting that the late Alexander Ivashkin’s valedictory recording is a premiere of a piece many didn’t know existed. Ivashkin’s tireless scholarship and selfless promotion of composers yielded up many treasures, particularly the works of Schnittke and Gubaidulina. But Britten was always Ivashkin’s great love, and he has done the cello fraternity a great service by preparing a performing edition of the composer’s very first Sonata for Cello in A, written when he was just 13 years old. He named it his Op. 42, part of that outpouring of music he clearly needed to write before embarking on the mature-sounding Quatre chansons françaises. It’s fascinating to see how completely he’d absorbed classical forms and, above all, the voice of Schubert. The innocent first movement treads carefully, while the Andante ma poco presto is a fluent ballad, with a strong narrative thread in which cello and piano are often in unison. There are dramatic tremolandos and a broad, lyric second subject. It breathes the air of a Romantic lied (and makes a peculiarly apt introduction to the later Sonata in C). It ends with a brief Allegro of nimble grace full of pleasing exchanges between the two instruments. Sadly, this is a rather distant recording (in Deptford Town Hall) that favours the piano, so we miss some brilliance and detail, which Ivashkin and Zolinksy find in a pungent reading of the Sonata in C.
The solo Suites, recorded in Goldsmith’s recital hall, benefit from a better sound overall, and plenty of idiomatic insight. But from the opening chords of Suite No. 1 – which should shine, yet here are dragged flat – it’s clear that Ivashkin was not playing at the peak of his powers.