Alisa Weilerstein and Inon Barnatan play Rachmaninov and Chopin sonatas

Erik Levi relishes Alisa Weilerstein’s account of the Cello Sonata

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin/Rachmaninov
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin & Rachmaninov Cello Sonatas
WORKS: Cello Sonata; Etude, Op. 25 No. 7 (arr. Franchomme); Polonaise brillante, Op. 3
PERFORMER: Alisa Weilerstein (cello); Inon Barnatan (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 8416

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The glorious ebb and flow of melodic material that courses through the veins of the Rachmaninov and Chopin Sonatas seems absolutely tailor-made for a cellist with the flamboyance and intensity of Alisa Weilerstein. In this superbly recorded recital, she delivers one of the most compelling performances of the Rachmaninov I’ve ever heard. Her negotiation of the fluctuating tempos and contrasting moods in the first movement is totally compelling, as is the menacing tone she achieves in the lower reaches of her instrument at the opening of the ensuing Scherzo. Later in the same movement, she offers some wonderfully magical mezza voce playing in the middle section. The Andante is deeply felt, yet thankfully free from excessive indulgence, and it is followed by a Finale that is suitably uplifting and optimistic, the lyrical second idea projected with great warmth and nobility.

Weilerstein’s regular duo partner Inon Barnatan brings great musical insight and a marvellous variety of tone to the hugely demanding piano part. There’s an irresistibly mercurial lightness of touch in the Scherzo, and at the opposite end of the dynamic spectrum, the barnstorming chordal passages in the middle of the Finale are full-bodied but without ever sounding bombastic.

The performance of the Chopin is equally involving, even if doesn’t quite reach the heights of the larger-than-life impetuosity of the classic Deutsche Grammophon recording from Mstislav Rostropovich and Martha Argerich. Nevertheless, there is plenty to admire, not least the structurally convincing negotiation of changing tempos in the opening Allegro moderato (alas performed here minus the exposition repeat) and the urgency and rhythmic exhilaration of the Finale.

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Erik Levi