Russian Works for Cello and Piano
Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata begins with a melody low on the C string, and no expression markings: just the instruction piena voce (full voice). So it’s hard to explain exactly why Laura van der Heijden makes it sound and feel quite so right. Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t strive for effect. Van der Heijden’s tone is handsome, and her vibrato opens out to inflect the top of the phrase before the line slips without fuss beneath the piano’s answering melody. There’s a naturalness about her approach, as well as a certain earnestness – at any rate, she sounds like she takes the piece seriously.
That’s particularly relevant to a disc inspired by Zhdanov’s January 1948 attacks on Soviet composers: Prokofiev’s sonata has sometimes been cited as proof of a declawed composer toeing the party line. That’s not how it comes across here. Van der Heijden and Limonov are eloquent, reflective and (in the outer sections of the second movement) playful. Compared to, say, Matt Haimovitz’s recent account (Pentatone, 12/17) it feels reserved; but it’s an interpretation that takes nothing for granted, pregnant with things unsaid. One to live with.
The rest of the programme is imaginative: Myaskovsky’s Second Sonata actually dates from 1948 but you wouldn’t guess, and van der Heijden pours out beautifully moulded lyricism by the yard before giving a real sting to the tail of the finale. She finds a tragic side, too, to the rather dour romanticism of Yuri Shaporin’s Five Pieces. Limonov is clearly on the same page throughout, though the recording gives the piano a slightly tinny, distant sound – more of an issue in the Prokofiev than the other pieces. Otherwise, a thought-provoking debut disc from an impressive and intelligent young cellist.