George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Cello sonata in F minor - Allegro [9:06]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Cello sonata in C Op. 119 [21:49]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello sonata in D minor Op. 40 [25:01]
Laura Buruiana (cello); Alexandra Silocea (piano)
rec. 2013, Église protestant de Bon Secours, Paris
AVIE AV2302 [56:11]
Laura Buruiana and Alexandra Silocea are both Romanian so it is natural for them to begin their recital with a work from that country. However, to describe Enescu’s work, as Buruiana does in her contribution to the sleeve-note, as ‘Enescu’s lost cello sonata’, is a bit misleading. It is in fact the discarded and incomplete first movement of his first cello sonata, which he completed in 1898 when he was still seventeen. It surfaced in 1988, long after the composer’s death, when it was discovered by the composer Hans-Peter Türk who also completed it. It is a vigorous piece in the Brahmsian manner, more romantic and less rhythmic than the revision which replaced it. It is despatched here with aplomb by the two players. It is more than a curiosity but is of very much less moment than the other two works here.

These are Russian sonatas which are well established in the repertory. Prokofiev’s dates from his sad last years, after the notorious Zhdanov decree of 1948 had accused him, along with Shostakovich, Myaskovsky and Khachaturian, of formalism and banned a number of his works. A consolation to him at the time was his friendship with the young Rostropovich, then at the beginning of his dazzling career and very much in favour. Prokofiev decided to write a cello sonata for him and Op. 119 was the result. However, he was still mindful of the recent condemnation of his work. So he wrote it in C major, the blandest of the keys, packed it full of tunes and went light on the piquant dissonances which had been such a characteristic feature of his work.

Shostakovich’s sonata dates from much earlier in his career. He wrote it in 1934, during the short period after the successful opening of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and before its official condemnation two years later. However, his personal life was in turmoil: his marriage to Nina had ended, though he was soon to remarry her. None of this is reflected in this work which is full of the sudden mood changes of the early Shostakovich and the mordant wit which he was later to curb.

Buruiana is a mercurial player with a rich tone, a prodigious technique and plenty of nervous energy. She throws off the more virtuoso passages in the Prokofiev, in which Rostropovich may have had a hand, without difficulty, and follows the changing moods of the Shostakovich closely. In contrast to her Silocea is a less positive personality, though the rather forward balancing of the cello may be partly responsible for this impression. I felt she was more at home with the Prokofiev than the other works – she is something of a Prokofiev specialist and has recorded several of the piano sonatas. She responds particularly well to the glint of humour he allows to appear in the central Moderato of his sonata. There was a sudden slowing in the last movement of the Shostakovich just before she launched into torrents of scales. Without a score I did not know whether this was marked but it certainly had the feeling of slowing down before a tricky passage.

There are many other couplings of the Prokofiev and Shostakovich, with the Britten sonata often being the favoured third item. The Enescu on the other hand is a rarity, and the only other recording, by Valentin Radutiu and Per Rundberg, is on a two-disc Hänssler Classic set of all Enescu’s music for cello and piano (review), which is perhaps a more appropriate home for it. On its own terms this programme succeeds and I should certainly like to hear these musicians tackle the two Enescu cello sonatas.

Stephen Barber

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