Leonard Elschenbroich / Alexei Grynyuk

Shostakovich & Rachmaninov

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You have to give German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich points for versatility: the two sonatas included on this album, though both Russian and both composed in the 20th century, are about as different in mood as two pieces of music can be. Shostakovich's Viola Sonata, Op. 147, was his last work, and it ends in a striking tableau of bleakness. In the extraordinarily controlled performance by Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk, it is as if life itself is ebbing away at the end of the Adagio finale. There are performances of this work that have the more characteristically Russian Shostakovich mode, but in this case the more neutral tone is correct: the work is suffused with the spirit of Beethoven, quotes the Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27/2 ("Moonlight"), and has a great deal in common with the grim and at times bleakly humorous String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135, which was likewise Beethoven's last work. The arrangement for cello by Daniel Shafran was supervised by Shostakovich from his deathbed, and the work was originally planned with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in mind; it is certainly a piece that cellists have a perfect right to. The Rachmaninov Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19, was composed in 1901. It is an effusively melodic work that has something in common with Rachmaninov's songs: the piano parts, written with the composer's own awesome skills in mind, are pleasingly intricate but carefully crafted so as not to overwhelm the cello line. Beyond all the individual virtues, there is an X factor working in this album's favor: the superb chamber sound from Britain's Potton Hall creates an atmosphere of communion with the composers' thoughts. A superior Russian chamber music recording.

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