Chopin – Cello Sonatas

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin,Laks,Szymanowski
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Chopin: Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65; Étude, Op. 10 No. 6 (arr. Glazunov); Laks: Cello Sonata; Szymanowski: Sonata in D minor, Op. 9 (arr. Wilkomirski)
PERFORMER: Raphael Wallfisch (cello), John York (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5862

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I was intrigued by this CD’s title, Chopin Cello Sonatas. This turned out, sadly, to be the result of editorial carelessness rather than the discovery of a new sonata by the composer. Fortunately, this was no indication of the quality of performances on this fascinating collection of sonatas, all by Polish-Parisian composers.

First up is the famous Chopin, which in Wallfisch’s hands flows like a river of silk, pulsing with burnished warmth, spontaneity and vigour. His long partnership with York is shown at its best, instinctive and flexible, though the piano sound may be a little resonant for some. Their soulful reading of Glazunov’s transcription of the E flat Etude is one to cherish. 

Next up is a fabulous premiere recording of Simon Laks’s Cello Sonata, revealing a highly distinctive and memorable work from 1932. Laks was a promising composer who, having survived incarceration in Auschwitz, returned to Paris where he wrote humdrum film music.

This pre-War work reveals influences of jazz, Ravel and Honegger’s intense contrapuntalism, but is actually unlike anything else in the repertoire. After a robust Allegro and a bluesy Andante comes a brilliantly attractive, modal finale, almost minimalist in its hypnotic ostinatos, and here thrown off with panache. The disc is worth it for this alone. 

Less satisfactory is the transcription of Szymanowski’s Violin Sonata. Compared with the lithe and passionate recording by Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghian (Hyperion) it’s hard not to find this cello version muddy and over-strained, particularly in the tumultuous finale, which they take rather steadily
despite their evident virtuosity.

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But this version comes into its own in the magical, floating Andante, where the cello’s tenor glistens and they create an extraordinarily powerful climax. Helen Wallace