Raphael Wallfisch

Shchedrin: Cello Sonata; Ancient Melodies of Russian Folk-song

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As lovely and melancholy a cello disc as one could ask for, this 2008 Nimbus disc of music by Rodion Shchedrin is sure to please listeners who love Shostakovich and are looking for something in the same vein yet distinctive. Shchedrin's music is similar to the extent that both he and Shostakovich favor sharp-cornered melodies, hard-edged sonorities, and an at-the-edge approach to tonality. It's different in that Shchedrin's music is less gnarly and knotty and more directly emotional and approachable. But most importantly, Shchedrin's music is emphatically Shchedrin's own. All four works here sound like his work and no other. This is in large part due to the music itself, but also to the presence of the composer at the piano. With his calm confidence and absolute conviction, Shchedrin the pianist is Shchedrin the composer's second best friend.

The composer's best friend is cellist Raphael Wallfisch. The English cellist has turned in an amazing number of first-class recordings in the decade prior to this disc's release, and this one continues the run. Possessing a strong technique and a big but expressive tone, Wallfisch does for Shchedrin's cello music what he's done for Beethoven's and Shostakovich's: he makes the best possible case for it without letting his ego get in the way. The opening work, The ancient melodies of Russian folk-songs, is moody, mercurial, and often moving. The central work, the three-movement Cello Sonata, is big-boned, clear-eyed worthy successor to Shostakovich and Prokofiev's exercises in the genre. And the final two works, In the style of Albéniz and the Quadrille from Shchedrin's opera Nicht nur liebe, are light, charming, and occasionally hilarious. Recorded in Naxos' characteristically clean but reverberant digital sound, this disc offers a splendid précis of Shchedrin's music.

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