The Rachmaninov cello sonata is truly a gift to the cello repertoire considering Rachmaninov's output focused so tightly on piano and symphonic literature. This sonata, written immediately after the immensely popular Second Piano Concerto, shares many of its finest features, including sweeping melodies, an introspective slow movement, and lush accompanimental writing. Like the Beethoven cello sonatas (which were actually billed as sonatas for piano with cello), this piece is often at least as much about the beautiful piano part as it is about the cello.
Unlike Rachmaninov, Villa-Lobos was himself a cellist, a fact that is clearly reflected in his oeuvre. The two sonatas and composers seem to have little in common, so it is unexpected to see them together on the same album. Villa-Lobos incorporates much more exotic harmonies, from whole-tone sequences to jazz-like approaches. Despite the prominence of the piano part (especially in the Rachmaninov), this recording sadly pushes the piano too far to the background. This is truly a shame, as Stephen Swedish is an accomplished artist and a masterful accompanist. For the most part, cellist Wolfgang Laufer provides an agreeable performance of these two works. The Rachmaninov is definitely the more successful of the two sonatas on this album. Laufer's playing during the Villa-Lobos sounds almost hesitant at times, and intonation during the more chromatic moments is somewhat tentative.