Stravinsky: Suite Italienne; Schnittke: Sonata No. 1; Sonata No. 2; Musica Nostalgica; Smirnov: Tiriel, Op. 41c
Bozidar Vukotic (cello), Alissa Firsova (piano)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0606 61.40 mins
There are some disconcerting imbalances in what ought to be a disc to welcome. First, the programme: while in principle anything should go with anything else, in practice this feels like the essentially elegiac main act of sonatas by Schnittke and a striking work by Dmitri Smirnov – pianist and composer Alissa Firsova’s father (her mother is the equally distinguished Elena Firsova) – prefaced by a rather long and mostly jolly prelude and epilogued with an inconsequential encore. It doesn’t work for me. Then there’s the sound and balance: I was surprised to find how dry the acoustic of the Yehudi Menuhin School’s newish hall comes across, and if Vukotic appears to be some distance, the piano could be in the next room with the door open.
That may be why the potential dynamic extremes of Schnittke’s masterly First Cello Sonata don’t hit or haunt as they should; only compare a classic like Alban Gerhardt’s partnership with Steven Osborne on Hyperion to hear what it can be. The plus here is going straight on from one piano low C to another in the Second Sonata, a meditation on the cusp of death, with so much in common with the very late works of Shostakovich, skeletal and incorporating elements of 12-note rows within a fundamentally tonal context. Smirnov’s Blake-inspired Tiriel succeeds in expressing ‘a cradle song from the Goddess Mnetha, a gentle farewell to humanity.’ Vukotic’s excellent sense of togetherness with Firsova shines in many of the responses in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella-derived Suite Italienne and the neat end of Schnittke’s Musica nostalgica. David Nice