Chopin, Rachmaninov

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin,Rachmaninov
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin , Rachmaninov
WORKS: Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65; Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19; Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14 (arr. Wallfisch)
PERFORMER: Alexander Kniazev (cello), Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 63946-2

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With two larger-than-life artists such as Alexander Kniazev and Nikolai Lugansky working in partnership, there’s a good chance that their performances will be controversially idiosyncratic. It would be easy, for example, to take issue with their rendition of Raphael Wallfisch’s arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. Surely the chosen tempo is impossibly slow, robbing the music of its essential nobility and simplicity. At the opposite end of the tempo spectrum, the Scherzo of the Chopin seems rushed and hard-driven, undermining the stomping rhythms of the outer sections and diminishing the lyrical ardour of the Trio. Then there’s Kniazev’s rather fussy rubato in the first movement of the Chopin. It’s far too self-conscious for my taste and doesn’t seem to be applied with any sense of musical logic. Yet for all these caveats, there’s some brilliant playing on this disc. Curiously, although Kniazev and Lugansky are somewhat indulgent in the first movement of the Chopin, their Rachmaninov has a much more natural sense of ebb and flow. Both the first movement and the demonic Scherzo are particularly compelling, and Lugansky produces some spinetingling articulation in the forceful climaxes that dominate the central section of the Finale. If the recording of the piano had been more focused, this version of the Rachmaninov might have warranted benchmark status. However, Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough benefit from better sound and produce an equally thrilling account of the work on Hyperion. As for the Chopin, no duo has yet come anywhere near to rivalling the degree of electricity which Mstislav Rostropovich and Martha Argerich (DG) bring to the music. Erik Levi