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Passion and gloom

Rachmaninov and Shostakovich
cello sonatas -
an appraisal by

'... Gwyneth George ... riding the technical difficulties with enviable ease ...'

Rachmaninov and Shostakovich cello sonatas. © 2001 Guild Music


At the end of the 19th century it seemed as if Rachmaninov had written only one work, a short piece produced after graduation. If Raff was allowed just a Cavatina and Anton Rubinstein merely his Melody in F, Rachmaninov must make do with his Prelude in C sharp minor. It was demanded wherever he played. As late as May 1922 the Musical Times had to sit out the inevitable encore: 'Rachmaninov knew what was coming, if his depressed air was any guide. He had hardly sunk on to the piano-stool when cries of "C sharp minor!" were fired at him, and he got to work with it at once, not even making a fresh start when the mob broke in on the opening notes with applause'. Since then there has been a Piano Concerto in C minor, theme music for any situation requiring a sufficiently heady mixture of passion and gloom. I now recommend with complete confidence the Cello Sonata in G minor, written soon after the concerto. It has many of the same qualities. Towering pianist that he was, Rachmaninov makes no attempt to limit the number of keyboard notes, and produces a virtuoso part in the midst of which the cello must somehow make its eloquent plea and regret it is not a full orchestra. The main section of the first movement begins with unstoppable lyrical impulse [listen -- track 1, 1:02-2:02]. The Scherzo is grimly sardonic, but it is the third movement Andante that displays Rachmaninov's superb lyricism in full flower [listen -- track 3, 1:49-3:01].

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Copyright © 10 April 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK




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