Rachmaninov: Works for cello and piano

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COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Hannsler
WORKS: Cello Sonata; Prélude, Op. 2/1; Danse orientale, Op. 2/2; Melody in E minor, Op. 3 (arr. Matkovsky); Prelude in G, Op. 23 (arr. Brandukov); Three Songs, Op. 4 (arr. Geringas) Song in F minor; Spring Streams, Op. 14/11 (arr. Geringas); Vocalise, Op. 34/14
PERFORMER: David Geringas (cello), Ian Fountain (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 93.245

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When a cello sings Rachmaninov, the combination of Russian soul and ravishing tone can easily bathe the ear in a wash of loveliness that proves unmemorable. David Geringas, though, is a musician incapable of working on the surface: both he and Ian Fountain bring a fierce intellectual curiosity to these works.

Though some of the slighter lyric pieces do glide by, Fountain’s idiomatic nuancing and the grainy texture of Geringas’s cello are certainly distinctive. But it is in the magnificent Sonata in G minor that the duo dig deepest. Speeds are unpredictable and sometimes extreme: Geringas attacks the gruff, biting Scherzo with febrile force but draws out its second subject languorously.

The first Allegro moderato is strangely ponderous, and I missed a real pianissimo, but they build excitement very effectively through this movement. There’s nothing ethereal about the achingly beautiful Andante, which is seized with passion, building to a thunderous climax. The finale surges restlessly, as I feel it should. The sound is edgy and virile, not always purely resonant, but overall their tremendous sweep and sense of shape convinced me.

Geringas has made his own arrangements of some of the composer’s exquisite songs, as did Mischa Maisky (with Sergio Tiempo on DG, let down by an over-resonant, over-produced sound).

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For a more structured approach go for Truls Mørk (Virgin); but for thrills and spills this is the one. Helen Wallace