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Russian Cello Sonatas - Chaushian, Sudbin

Russian Cello Sonatas - Chaushian, Sudbin

BIS  BIS-SACD-1858

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Rachmaninov: Cello Sonata in G minor Op. 19, Vocalise Op. 34 No. 14
Borodin: Cello Sonata in B minor
Shostakovich: Cello Sonata in D minor Op. 40

Alexander Chaushian (cello)
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)


Composed between 1860 and 1934, the works on this disc hail from a momentous period in Russian music – from the emergence of a national Russian school of composing advocated by the group called ‘The Mighty Five’ (of which Borodin was a member), to Stalin’s denunciation of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which was to cause generations of Russian composers to harness their modernist leanings. To look for evidence of such historical circumstances in the present programme could however be misleading.

Alexander Borodin’s Sonata in B minor (an early work which was published only in 1982 in a completion by the composer and musicologist Mikhail Goldstein) was inspired by a theme from Bach’s Sonata for solo violin in G minor, a thoroughly ‘un-Russian’ source of inspiration.

And although Sergei Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G minor – and certainly his Vocalise – has a broad tunefulness which might be thought of as ‘Russian’, it was composed after the failure in 1897 of his First Symphony, when the country’s musical establishment turned its back on the young composer.

As for the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, there is certainly a big change in style after the official criticism of Lady Macbeth in 1936. It’s equally true that his Sonata in D minor does point towards a new direction – but the work had been composed in 1934, implying that the seeds of this change of style were already present before the articles in Pravda.

Whether typically Russian or not, the three sonatas are here given warm and inspired performances by the Armenian-born cellist Alexander Chaushian with Yevgeny Sudbin, his chamber music partner of long standing, at the piano. The two have previously recorded sonatas by Mieczyslaw Weinberg for BIS; a disc which was hailed as ‘the best possible case for a reappraisal of this undervalued composer’ in BBC Music Magazine, while the reviewer in International Record Review found it ‘difficult to imagine finer performances than these’.

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Review by Mark Novak - April 26, 2011

This is an interesting and varied program for piano and cello. The Rachmaninov sonata is a true warhorse, engendering many performances over the years from famous musicians. Do cellist Chaushian and pianist Sudbin bring anything special to it? Not really. Trying to avoid damning with faint praise, I will note that the performance is highly competent and well worth investing 35 minutes of one’s time. But I cannot claim in good conscience that it brings anything special to the music that numerous other performances have delivered. Much the same can be said of the Shostakovich sonata. Again, a highly competent performance that perhaps lacks the last degree of fire and abandon needed to make an imprint.

The Borodin sonata has only survived in fragmentary form. The version that’s performed here is a completion done in 1982 by Mikhail Goldstein. Compared to the Rachmaninov and Shostakovich sonatas, it is clearly on a second tier musically. The performance is nevertheless good. The inclusion of the Vocalise in transcription for cello and piano is a meltingly beautiful coda to a nice program.

I am less enthusiastic about the sound of this SACD. It was recorded January, 2010 in St Georges, Bristol, England by BIS regular producer/engineer Jens Braun. There seems to be a resonance in the hall somewhere around an octave above middle C that gives a shouty character to both the piano and the cello when playing in that register. The piano employed is a Steinway D but it lacks the characteristic fullness on the bottom and plump midrange tonality that I associate with that piano. Perhaps this is characteristic of the hall (I’ve never been there). Otherwise, the balance of direct and hall sound is judicious and the two instruments coexist in a realistic balance.

In balance, considering that there are many fine performances already out there in RBCD of the two main works here, I would hesitate recommending this one.

Copyright © 2011 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net

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Sonics (Stereo):

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