Rachmaninov, Franck

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Franck,Rachmaninov
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19; Two Pieces, Op. 2. Cello Sonata in A; Panis angelicus; Le sylphe
PERFORMER: Steven Isserlis (cello), Stephen Hough (piano), Rebecca Evans (soprano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67376
The Romantic cello sonata, flying through storm and stress to assertive heroism, is the subject here (Isserlis doesn’t need to plead too hard for the cello version of the work we know as Franck’s Violin Sonata; my score offers viola, cello or flute as alternatives). There’s nothing overblown, though, about Isserlis’s mobile, feeling but never gushing legato lines – a rare feat indeed for some of Rachmaninov’s more sentimental, vintage-1901 melodies – or Hough’s winged, crystalline partnership. Catch them at their best in the shining forward movement of Rachmaninov’s finale, a swift parade of all that’s best about the playing with a coda that begins with a noble fortissimo, not the marked pianissimo – a liberty gleaned from the horse’s mouth of dedicatee Brandukov via Isserlis’s grandfather – or in the surprisingly sombre introspection of Franck’s middle movements. It’s a pity the close, dry recording sits so heavily on the performances, which would seem to take place among the heavy silks and carpets of a Victorian drawing room rather than the robust Henry Wood Hall; I prefer Ma and Ax in Rachmaninov if only because there’s more air around the sound.

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Both sonatas are flanked by less stressful earlier utterances. Rachmaninov’s Op. 2 Prelude makes an especially effortless lead-in, though it’s a pity there’s no text for Franck’s Le sylphe; I couldn’t make out many of the words in Rebecca Evans’s performance, though she makes a ravishing sound, and her contribution to Panis angelicus is as Classical as that of her cellist and pianist. Never has a hoary favourite sounded so chaste. David Nice