ALBUM TITLE: In Schubert’s Company
WORKS: Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata; Symphony No. 5; Violin Sonata No. 3; Polonaise in B flat; Winterreise – ‘Der Leiermann’; Akhunov: In Schubert’s Company; Der Erlkönig; Desyatnikov: Wie der alte Leiermann…; Tabakova: Fantasy Homage to Schubert
PERFORMER: Yakov Katsnelson (piano); Riga Sinfonietta/Maxim Rysanov (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4183
This recording began life when the estimable Maxim Rysanov launched a 200th anniversary competition, won by Sergey Akhunov’s In Schubert’s Company, a reflective tone poem that drifts and soars, and which then spawned a jazzily hectic take on Der Erlkönig, again for viola and strings.
Leonid Desyatnikov’s Wie der alte Leiermann…is a bolder, more aggressive ‘commentary’, creating a heavy, lumbering canon out of the organ-grinder’s motif before releasing the viola into an array of variations. It’s effective as a ‘sketch’ of Gidon Kremer, as he describes it, capturing something of that violinist’s high-octane attack, but it feels clumsy beside the starkly devastating original.
Dobrinka Tabakova’s more literal setting of the Lied for viola and orchestra fares better, while her Fantasy Homage to Schubert is inspired: sheets of shimmering texture gradually thin to reveal the opening of the C major Fantasie, underpinned by the trill figure, emerging like a precious relic from a lost age. Schubert’s Fifth Symphony under Rysanov’s direction is one of the best things here, benefiting from a melting wind chorale, lithe tempos and unselfconscious brio.
Amidst these we have two of Schubert’s sonatas on viola, the Arpeggione and the Violin Sonata No. 3, D408. Rysanov illuminates the former with warmth and grace; it’s only a shame Yakov Katsnelson’s recorded sound is distanced and soft-focused. After a spellbindingly tender Adagio, the Allegretto kindles into life but lacks immediacy. The Third Sonata benefits, again, from Rysanov’s buoyant lyricism and the rich timbre of his Guadagnini, glowing like ruby embers against the piano’s dark silk.