Rachmaninoff: Complete works for cello & Piano

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninoff
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Complete works for cello & Piano
PERFORMER: Michael Greganier (cello), Janet Guggenheim (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550987
With its wonderfully expansive melodies and indulgent lyricism, it’s hardly surprising that Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata continues to be a firm favourite with players and audiences alike. Yet the work cannot really sustain one’s interest if the pianist, on whom so much depends, hasn’t the necessary command of the instrument. Here Janet Guggenheim certainly gets round all the notes – an achievement in itself. But her tone is uningratiating to say the least, and at moments of climax downright unpleasant. Perhaps the harsh recording is partially responsible for this impression. Yet even in quieter sections such as the gorgeous slow movement, the sound is monochrome with little feeling for voicing.

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For direct comparison, I turned to Virgin’s full-price recording with Truls Mørk and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The difference is obvious from the opening bars, for Mørk and Thibaudet inject a feeling of anticipation and expectancy, where Grebanier and Guggenheim are simply dull. Equally the Scherzo positively sparkles with energy and colour on the Virgin release, while the current performers sound heavy-handed.

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After the disappointments of the Sonata, I expected the rest of the programme to follow a similar course. But although Grebanier and Guggenheim play the shorter pieces with greater imagination, this isn’t sufficient to rescue a rather unsatisfactory release. Erik Levi