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Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Cello Sonata No. 1 in D major Op. 12 (1911 rev. 1935) [22:22]
Cello Sonata No. 2 in A minor Op. 81 (1938) [23:46]
Luca Magariello (cello)
Cecilia Novarino (piano)
rec. 2015/16, Atelier Passadori, Brescia, Italy

I came to Miaskovsky, or Myaskovsky as he is spelled on this disc, after knowing Prokofiev and Shostakovich, but having now heard all his symphonies, concertos and quartets he seems to me to be the norm from which those composers deviate. He is a great representative of continuity in Russian music, having first made a name for himself before the revolution and living long enough to be denounced in the 1948 purge of ‘formalism’. He did not keep to the idiom of his youth but was never as adventurous as his friend Prokofiev. There is an old (2002) but still valuable survey of recordings of his work by Jonathan Woolf here.

His major contribution to chamber music is his cycle of thirteen string quartets. Apart from these, there are these two cello sonatas and one violin sonata. (The latter is currently unrecorded, but a recording is due out this autumn.) The two cello sonatas come from opposite ends of the composer’s career, though the fact that the first was revised in 1935 means that we are not hearing his first unvarnished thoughts. It is in two movements. The first is very lyrical, rather in the Rachmaninov idiom – Rachmaninov’s own cello sonata dates from ten years earlier – and none the worse for that. This leads directly into an Allegro Appassionato. This is quite varied and discursive. I was immediately taken by Luca Magariello’s lovely tone and the way he worked well with his pianist. I discover that they are in fact a husband and wife team so that is perhaps not surprising.

The second sonata is one of Miaskovsky’s last works, written after the notorious denunciation of him and other leading composers and when he was already ill. This is a three movement work: the first two movements are predominantly lyrical while the third is much more athletic and virtuosic. Nevertheless, there is a withdrawn quality about it: I feel it is essentially a private work, and it perhaps not a coincidence that in this late work the composer returned to the form and also to some of the mood of his earlier work.

The virtues this team have demonstrated in the first sonata are also evident in the second. I should add that they give the themes time to expand, so there is no sense of hurry or rush. As well as working as a duo, each player has a separate reputation, Luca Magariello as a concerto soloist and also a chamber music player with a range of ensembles, and Cecilia Novarino in chamber music and also as an operatic répétiteur. This is their debut recording as a duo.

The recording is good and the sleeve note is in English and Italian. Although Brilliant Classics is an economy label this neither looks nor sounds like a cheap issue.

There are several other recordings of these sonatas, both separately and in mixed programmes, and also some which add Miaskovsky’s cello concerto, which may be convenient but seems to me untidy for a chamber music disc. The standard recommendation for this coupling, including the concerto, is for Alexander Rudin and Victor Ginsburg (review). I must admit to not having heard this. However, on its own terms this new version is very satisfying, and the shortness of the timing is offset by the low price.

Stephen Barber


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