Christoph Croisé / Alexander Panfilov

The Russian Album: Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Shchedrin

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The Russian Album isn't an especially evocative title for this group of performances by Swiss cellist Christoph Croisé and pianist Alexander Panfilov (a genuine Russian, to be sure, but resident in the U.S. for some years). The closing work, New York Honk, is not even Russian but Swiss. Instead, what you have here are strong performances of cello sonatas by Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, two works that are both from the first half of the 20th century but diverge fundamentally in aesthetic and expressive content. It is to Croisé's credit that he shifts gears completely between the two works. The Rachmaninov Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19, is a fairly early work, brimming over with fabulous melodies even if not with total formal coherence (Rostropovich, among others, would omit the repeat in the oversized first movement). Croisé and Panfilov craft a deliberate, deeply lyrical reading, making plenty of room for the big tunes that are pure Rachmaninov. The Shostakovich Cello Sonata in D minor, Op. 40, on the other hand, is one of the hardest-edged pieces the composer ever wrote, a manifestation of the dark, ironic tendency that first got him in trouble with Stalin. It doesn't sound quite like anything else Shostakovich ever wrote, and it receives a top-flight performance here. Sample the Allegro second movement with its steely ostinato, and you may feel like you're not listening to the same cellist as in the Rachmaninov. This is all to the good. Croisé and Panfilov relax with several encore-like crowd-pleasers at the end, including the delightful and aforementioned New York Honk of Thomas Demenga. The end result is a consistently satisfying cello-and-piano recital.

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