LABELS: Live Classics
WORKS: Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119; Sonata in C minor, Op. 32; Sonata in C, Op. 65
PERFORMER: Natalia Gutman (cello), Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: LCL 641
You can prejudge an artist by the company he keeps; and while both Sviatoslav Richter, who features so significantly in this series, and Yuri Bashmet are infinitely more familiar to us than the name of Oleg Kagan, his musicianship is unquestionably on their level. Kagan remains in relative obscurity first because he came to maturity under a Soviet system which had initially given him little chance of making his mark in the west, and then because his death in 1990 at the age of 43 cut short a growing worldwide reputation – not least as an outstanding chamber musician at the Finnish Kuhmo Festival and elsewhere.
Some of those later performances, including an incandescent Schubert Octet from Kuhmo, feature in this wide-ranging Oleg Kagan Edition. Inevitably the eye is drawn immediately to the Kagan-Richter partnership, and the ear is not disappointed. David Oistrakh approved of Kagan’s Mozart, and Richter deigned to partner his natural heir in the most perfect Mozart-playing I’ve ever been privileged to hear. These are very much sonatas for piano and violin, and while Kagan is anything but meekly subservient to Richter the master, he catches and echoes his phrasemaking with ease and naturalness; everything is at the service of the music, and in pursuit of the essence.
If Kagan has a tonal hallmark, other than the resonant vibrato of the Russian school, it’s his sheer adaptability; in Romantic music, line and tone take wing. The Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Franck piano trios bring before us another underrated musician, the cellist (and Kagan’s second wife) Natalia Gutman. Her performance of the Prokofiev Sonata with Richter, recorded two years after Kagan’s death as one of several essential footnotes, has an introspective depth in perfect contrast to the impassioned dedicatee, Rostropovich. As yet, the edition is reaching us in fits and starts, so far favouring Classical and Romantic repertoire, while the essential Messiaen, Schnittke and Gubaidulina so ardently championed by Kagan wait in the wings. For now, though, go out and buy what instalments you can while you may.