Notes and Editorial Reviews
for Violin and Cello,
for Cello and Piano,
for Two Cellos,
12 Album Leaves
for Cello and Piano,
Martin Rummel (vc); Alexander Hülshoff (vc); Friedemann Eichhorn (vn); Till Alexander Körber
NAXOS 8.572713 (72: 03)
Reinhold Glière (1875-1956), like César Cui, Georgy Catoire, and Nikolai Medtner, was a Russian composer of non-Russian ancestry. Best known for his mammoth Third Symphony, based on the medieval legend of the warrior Ilya Muromets, he was protected by his very conservative, tonal style from the periodic crackdowns on “formalism” that impacted the careers of younger composers under Stalin’s rule. During those years, he served as a kind of musical ambassador to non-Russian areas of the country, traveling to such places as Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the Buriat-Mongolian ASSR and composing operas and other works based on local literary traditions and incorporating themes from local folk music. An entertaining disc of orchestral excerpts from these works is available on Chandos, conducted by Vassily Sinaisky. The chamber works on the disc under review, however, all date from the pre-Revolutionary period.
The earliest piece on the program is the
for Cello and Piano, written in 1902. At around five minutes, it is the longest single movement on the disc and also exists in a version for cello and small orchestra, which is performed on the Chandos disc mentioned above. A tuneful bit of turn-of-the-century Russian romanticism, the
is enjoyable if lacking a highly individual character. It receives an ardent, intense performance from cellist Martin Rummel and pianist Till Alexander Körber. In the orchestral version, Sinaisky and cellist Peter Dixon take a more relaxed, lyrical, and to my mind less involving approach. Of the two cellists, Dixon seems to have the smoother, mellower tone, although the much closer miking of the Naxos recording may have something to do with this perception. No other recordings of the piece appear to be available.
for Violin and Cello were composed in 1909 and bear the titles Prelude, Gavotte and Musette, Cradle Song, Canzonetta, Intermezzo, Impromptu, Scherzo, and Etude. The longest of them lasts under three minutes. Of these miniatures, I find the folk-like Cradle Song, the disjointed counterpoint of the Impromptu, the vigorous Scherzo, and the frenetic Etude the most interesting. The two cellists alternate in performing these movements, with Martin Rummel taking the odd-numbered ones and Alexander Hülshoff the evens. I do not detect any differences in style or quality between them, and both seem thoroughly proficient. But it is the violinist who usually has the lead role in these pieces. Friedemann Eichhorn is up to the task, but he tends to use a lot of vibrato, and his tone sometimes could be better focused and centered. I haven’t heard any of the other five recordings of these pieces that are currently available, including one in which a viola takes the place of the cello, but all of them are coupled with works by other composers rather than with additional music by Glière. The recording by violinist Valeria Nasushkina and cellist Mikael Samsonov, on Oehms, was favorably reviewed by Robert Maxham in 34:5.
for Two Cellos, another collection of characterful miniatures, was written in 1911. The unusual instrumental combination generates a dark, throbbing sonority, and the writing is active and involved. The ninth piece, in which a mournful folk-like melody intones repeatedly over an ostinato figure, is haunting and outright weird. The performances by Rummel and Hülshoff are vigorous and intense, although occasionally on the rough-and-ready side. I have not been able to locate any other recordings of this set of pieces.
With the 12
for Cello and Piano, composed in 1910, we are back on more familiar territory, with a more common instrumental combination and a more conventional romantic style. If less arresting than the cello duets, these pieces are consistently melodious and engaging. Several of them (Nos. 6, 10, and 11) have an exotic tinge, anticipating the composer’s later explorations of the folk music of non-Russian areas of the Soviet Union. The performance by Rummel and Körber is fluent and accomplished. I haven’t heard the recording of this opus by Milana Chernyavska and Esther Nyffenegger on the Divox label, coupled with the Prokofiev Cello Sonata.
The sound of this Naxos release is very bright and vivid but also a bit hard-toned and lacking in spaciousness, probably the result of very close miking. The recording is also dubbed at a very high level, making necessary a substantial reduction from the normal volume level. As always, Naxos is to be praised for its continuing exploration of unfamiliar repertoire. The appeal of this disc is likely to be limited to those with a strong interest in investigating the byways of Russian chamber music, but for those who do have that interest, it is a recording well worth acquiring.
FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
Works on This Recording
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