Rachmaninov: Cello Sonata • Prokofiev: Viola Sonata

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev,Rachmaninov
ALBUM TITLE: Rachmaninov: Cello Sonata • Prokofiev: Viola Sonata
WORKS: Rachmaninov: Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19; Vocalise; Prokofiev: Viola Sonata (arr. Shafran)
PERFORMER: Leonard Elschenbroich (cello), Alexei Gryunyuk (piano)


In his perceptive note on Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata, Leonard Elschenbroich identifies the composer’s focus on the peculiarly neutral interval of a fourth as the source of the work’s painful emptiness, ‘creating an atmosphere not of the agony and drama otherwise associated with a swansong, but rather one of disillusionment, terrifyingly bleak and cold’. It’s clearly a work the young German cellist is chilled and fascinated by in equal measure, and his striking reading of Daniil Shafran’s adaptation (approved by Shostakovich) announces a major talent. It’s not the only way of seeing this valedictory piece – for some, it’s an exploration of tender memories – but with the cello’s heightened clarity and heft, it’s all the more devastating. This is one of the most articulate and highly characterised accounts I’ve heard on the cello, with a tonal gleam that makes it more attractive to listen to than on the viola. But Shostakovich had his reasons for choosing that subfusc, sinewy sound and, in the final Adagio, the cello can not voice that raw rasp of pain in quite the same way.

The Shostakovich reveals Alexei Grynyuk to be a remarkable musician with a commanding sense of architecture. His big-boned but supple pianism is the ideal foil in the Rachmaninov Sonata to Elschenbroich’s highly detailed line. The two bring a fiery dynamic to both first and second movements, and Elschenbroich’s beautiful Goffriller sound floats above the undertow of Grynyuk’s subtle rubato in the Andante. The finale is a little broader than its ‘allegro mosso’ would suggest, but their big-scale approach is absolutely right for this epic sonata, and the spacious recording serves them well. 


Helen Wallace