RACHMANINOV; CHOPIN Cello Sonatas
It’s a bold musician who dares to duet with Alisa Weilerstein. So much is out of the question: complacency, clichés, safety nets. So much relies on emotional extremes and instincts as quick as this American cellist’s. Who has the stamina, and the stomach, for it?
Inon Barnatan fits the bill, judging from this Rachmaninov and Chopin programme; it’s hard to imagine many cellist-pianist duos more mutually fond of risk-taking. They certainly don’t hold back in Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata, often pushing it to the brink of breaking point. That’s what makes the first-movement climax so intoxicating, and why the second communicates with such fire-bellied urgency. But it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum that they really make their mark. In the third movement Barnatan finds a delicate songfulness to rival even Stephen Hough’s. And neither Mischa Maisky nor Natalie Clein can match Weilerstein’s sense of mystery in the first.
What emerges is an interpretation in which no single colour outstays its welcome. The same goes for Chopin’s Cello Sonata, whose sense of restlessness suits this duo well: just listen to them dart between the thunderous outbursts and the tranquil oases of the first movement. Then sample Weilerstein’s tone at 1'58" into the second movement, as it melts into something beyond recognition. Occasionally you feel they’ve missed a trick, for example in the reflections of the third movement, where cellist Alban Gerhardt and pianist Steven Osborne plumb greater depths. For the most part, though, this latest release leaves few notes unexamined.
That’s just as true of the smaller-scale works, in which Weilerstein and Barnatan reject received ideas. In Rachmaninov’s ‘Vocalise’ they avoid the predictable swellings that can reduce this piece to a hackneyed stocking-filler. In Auguste Franchomme’s arrangement of Chopin’s C sharp minor Etude they eschew over-indulgence in favour of honest simplicity. And in their hands Chopin’s Polonaise brillante sounds both poised and soulful, not just a piece of ‘glitter for the drawing room’, as its composer self-deprecatingly dismissed it.