Prokofiev, Kabalevsky

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Kabalevsky,Prokofiev
LABELS: Onyx
WORKS: Prokofiev: Cello Sonata; Cinderella – Adagio (arr. Rostropovich); The Stone Flower – Waltz (arr. Limonov); Love for Three Oranges – March (arr. Limonov); Kabalevsky: Cello Concerto No. 2; Novelette, Op. 27/25
PERFORMER: Leonard Elschenbroich (cello), Alexei Grynyuk, Petr Limonov (piano); Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4122

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Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk made a superb recording of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata in transcription, raising high hopes for this account of Prokofiev’s rather different but nonetheless subtle and engaging Cello Sonata. These are more than fulfilled. Their performance, richly characterised and sensitive to this Sonata’s shades of colour and expression, reminded me of Sviatoslav Richter’s description of Prokofiev’s Eighth and Ninth Piano Sonatas, respectively, having ‘a complex inner life’ and being ‘radiant, simple, and even intimate’. There’s an echo, too, from another masterpiece, the first movement’s will-o’-the wisp ending reminiscent of the ethereal end of the equivalent movement of Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor. Never has this often underestimated work seemed more rich in incident and so eloquently expressive.

After this, and some charming encores (with pianist Petr Limonov), it is disappointing to find the Kabalevsky Concerto less than engaging – no fault of the work, as recordings by its dedicatee, Daniil Shafran, or more recently Torleif Thedéen’s  on CPO (reviewed March 2014) make clear. Elschenbroich and conductor Andrew Litton – usually such a characterful interpreter – neutralise its tenebrous and baleful atmosphere with an all too matter-of-fact approach. Some blame, perhaps, is due to the sound balance; although made live in Amsterdam’s legendary Concertgebouw, crucial details, such as the saxophone solo, appear too recessed. Meanwhile Elschenbroich seems here in thrall of creating a beautiful tone rather than bringing out his part’s anxious and emotionally strained character.

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Daniel Jaffé