WORKS: Cello Sonata No. 1; Cello Sonata No. 2; Musica nostalgica; Epilogue from Peer Gynt
PERFORMER: Alexander Ivashkin (cello); Irina Schnittke (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9705
It was surely inevitable that Alfred Schnittke should have been strongly drawn to the cello sonata. The form, after all, has proved compelling for generations of Russian composers, and Schnittke himself extracted for his own use the expressive tone of his predecessors to a remarkable degree. Their mournful manner, not least perhaps that of the Shostakovich Sonata of 1934, certainly rubbed off on his own First Concerto Grosso and the First Violin Sonata.
In the First Cello Sonata, among Schnittke’s most performed and recorded pieces, a nostalgic opening movement is dismissed by what is perhaps the most pungent of scherzos to be found in this composer’s oeuvre. Irina Schnittke, the composer’s widow, delivers its cluster chords like the clinching salvo of aerial bombardment. Alexander Ivashkin stays cool under fire, and closes the piece with a searching Largo that recalls the ‘French horn’ fifths announced by the cello in the sonata’s opening bars.
Despite many rival versions, this performance rates highly as being authoritative, and is a worthy addition to the eminent Chandos collection of the composer’s music. For the leanly ascetic five-movement Second Sonata of 1994, the rival version is by Rostropovich, but comparisons between the two yield contrasts of character as much as of quality. The epilogue from Peer Gynt appears on the same Rostropovich disc, but Ivashkin’s advantage is the delightful Musica nostalgica, olde Viennese charm smudged with the fingerprints of the authentic Schnittke. Nicholas Williams