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Chopin • Rachmaninov: Cello Sonatas

Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Alexander Melnikov (piano) (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Chopin • Rachmaninov
Cello Sonatas
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Alexander Melnikov (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902643   61:45 mins 

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If Chopin had not died of tuberculosis aged only 39, what might he have gone on to achieve? His Cello Sonata, completed two years before he died, marked a return to chamber music after years of concentrating almost entirely on piano works. The first and much the largest of the Sonata’s four movements show its composer insistently reaching out into new territory, with a wide range of ideas deployed through a rather earnest approach to the form; the scope and intent impress, but even so, the remaining three movements ring truer in their reliance on the lyrical impulse and simpler designs of which Chopin was such a master.

Squaring artistic circles of this kind isn’t straightforward, and Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov, while offering playing that’s naturally superb in its own right, seem perhaps to be struggling to find the work’s expressive wavelength; their interpretation feels a shade constricted, and maybe the use of an 1885 Érard period piano (dating from nearly 40 years after Chopin’s life in any case) has slightly complicated rather than helped proceedings. No such reservations apply in Rachmaninov’s magnificent Sonata, written just after the Second Piano Concerto and brimming with wonderful material. Playing here on a modern Steinway, Melnikov’s masterful fluency in the tumultuous piano writing is beautifully balanced in relation to the cello part; and Queyras’s delivery of this flows and sings with a freedom that enthrals the ear.

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Malcolm Hayes