Mayke Rademakers / Matthijs Verschoor

Rachmaninov, Shostakovich: The Sonatas

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At first glance the pairing of Rachmaninov, purely a product of the old regime, and Shostakovich, the Soviet composer par excellence, is an odd one, and it doesn't show up often in recorded literature. But there are reasons to link these two cello sonatas in particular (and Armenian cellist Alexander Chaushian and pianist Yevgeny Sudbin have also done so). As Dutch performers Mayke Rademakers and Matthijs Verschoor say in their own notes, the two works have similar movement configurations, which is the key to a convincing contrast of this kind; the slow movements of each, they nicely put it, "appear to reveal themselves as the soul of the works." Above all is the fact that each composer was writing with the top products of the Russian conservatory system in mind, and Rachmaninov even beyond that for his own unparalleled talent. These are both fearsomely difficult works, among the most difficult for the cello-and-piano combination. Rademakers and Verschoor beautifully handle the challenges in the Rachmaninov; Verschoor, whose part is fully the equal of his partner's, catches the way the piano part cycles through vast changes of register in the opening movement, as if Rachmaninov were somehow trying to merge a cello into a solo piano work. The balance between the two instruments is very well controlled. The real news, however, is the remarkable performance of the Shostakovich Cello Sonata in D minor, Op. 40. This work was composed in the mid-'30s, just before Shostakovich's first clash with Soviet cultural authority. It is an astonishing piece that pushes both cellist and pianist to their limits, and Rademakers and Verschoor don't let you see them sweat. Only in the second-movement scherzo do you hear the acid, sarcastic idiom characteristic of early Shostakovich; the first and third movements seem filled with real and prophetic dread. The slow movement, with its eerie staccato passages near the end, sounds as though it comes from Shostakovich's grim late period, and the whole work is among the most "modern" Shostakovich produced. The tension explodes in a manic, frenetic parody of scales and exercises in the finale; this, too, has severe challenges for both performers. A superb Russian music release, with playing that is intense but never exaggerated.

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