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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Sonata for cello and piano in G minor, Op. 19 [34:56]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata for cello and piano in C, Op. 119 [23:37]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Romance (No. 5: Andante cantabile, from 6 Pieces, Op. 51) [5:21]
Meditation (No. 5 from 18 Pieces, Op. 72) [3:57]
Nina Kotova (cello)
Fabio Bidini (piano)
rec. Caruth Hall, SMU, Dallas, December 2014
Booklet notes in English, French & German
WARNER CLASSICS 9029 592460 [67:52]

From the outset I was troubled by balance issues in this release. Nina Kotova, as recorded, has a diminutive presence, shy and retiring almost. Her tone, though warm and sweet, is vibrato-laden and quite tremulous. Meanwhile her accompanist Fabio Bidini seldom holds back, pursuing a typically muscular piano line through the Rachmaninov and Prokofiev sonatas which now becomes the dominant voice, a bully even, over the cello’s cowering fragility. Technically they are ‘together’, but musically they seem to be worlds apart, all but oblivious to each other.

What this means for the Rachmaninov sonata is a change in character: as the opening Lento - Allegro moderato unfolds, the cello’s elaborations on themes introduced by the piano emerge more as meek offerings than the responses of an equal. The helter-skelter second movement becomes an uneven race, the cello puffing in pursuit, its legato interludes almost pleading for respite. Some equilibrium is restored in the Andante, but now in a mood more of consolation, perhaps even earnest counselling. The therapy doesn’t seem to work, however, and they resume in the Allegro finale firmly back in their respective corners, Bidini playing to a full house while Kotova again retires to the drawing room.

If the Prokofiev sonata comes off a little better, it could be down to its more angular nature, and the greater separation of the parts. But the problem is now more of complexion than character, as Kotova’s delicately sensuous bouquet just doesn’t seem right for the piece. She is accurate, elegant and assured, but hardly adventurous, at least for Prokofiev. Where are the attack and the edge, the sly humour, and the brilliantly coloured sound world? This is late Prokofiev, certainly, in which his style becomes more introverted and ruminative, and from a time when he was under the Soviet microscope, accused of ‘formalism’. But the power and imagination are still there, and Prokofiev, you feel, would never want to be played with mere respect or, as here, verging on the valedictory.

Things do come together in the Tchaikovsky makeweights, Kotova’s musicianship now hitting the sweet spot, and with Bidini in sympathetic support, they create ten minutes of aural balm. But these are slight pieces, tasty confections at best, and it’s too late – the real musical meal was in the two main courses, and they’ve already been adjudicated.

Des Hutchinson

 

 




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