Schnittke, Shostakovich: Cello Sonata No. 1; Cello Sonata No. 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schnittke,Shostakovich
LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: Cello Sonata No. 1; Cello Sonata No. 2
PERFORMER: Raphael Wallfisch (cello); John York (piano)
The playing is magnificent, no doubt about that. Raphael Wallfisch shows all his characteristic intensity and elegant control, and he’s superbly matched by John York – more than just an accompanist, but sensitively supportive when the focus is on his partner. So why not a glittering five stars? Well, for several reasons. Schnittke’s First Cello Sonata is given an unusually well-shaped performance, but the edges often seem smoothed away – plenty of power but not much bite. It’s the kind of playing that impresses, but doesn’t draw blood. Wallfisch is still more impressive in the arrangement of the Viola Sonata (Shostakovich’s last work), but there’s no getting away from it: the viola is an introvert, the cello an extrovert. Wallfisch shines in the black humour of the central Scherzo, but in the outer movements – and particularly in the final Adagio – he inevitably misses the viola’s veiled, abstracted other-worldliness. And taking the ending right down on to the cello’s C string muddies the final harmonies: the familiar sense of release in the closing bars is missing. Wouldn’t it have made sense to record Shostakovich’s genuine Cello Sonata instead – especially since the disc also includes the Moderato for cello and piano Shostakovich may have intended as a slow movement for that work? Ultimately, a strangely unsatisfying disc. Stephen Johnson