Reinhold GLIÈRE (1875-1956)
Twelve Album Leaves for cello and piano, Op. 51 (1910) [30:37]
Ballade for cello and piano, Op. 4 (1902) [6:04]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Sonata for cello and piano in G minor, Op. 19 (1901) [34:18]
Maja Bogdanović (cello)
Maria Belooussova (piano)
rec. 2017 Studio Sequenza, Montreuil, Paris
ORCHID CLASSICS ORC100078 [71:03]
Now both Paris-based, Serbian cellist Maja Bogdanović and Russian pianist Maria Belooussova have released their album Eastern Wind containing one of the repertory’s best-loved works and two rarely encountered scores. Close contemporaries, Rachmaninov and Glière were students at Moscow Conservatory whose teachers both included Taneyev and Arensky. These three early twentieth-century works for cello and piano, written just around a decade apart, are firmly rooted in the Russian Romantic idiom.
Although Glière is best known for his symphonies and ballets, I have long admired his chamber music, especially the String Octet and the String Sextet. A relatively early work, composed in 1902, Glière’s Ballade also exists in a version for cello and chamber orchestra. The Ballade feels highly contemplative in character. (In fact, it displays an aching beauty for which Rachmaninov is famous.) The set of Twelve Album Leaves was written in 1910 while Glière lived in Berlin. Given his German heritage, it is probably not surprising that I was reminded of the folk-infused character pieces favoured by Schubert and Schumann. Broadly, there seem to be three general categories for these Album Leaves. Several contain gloriously warm melodies, some inhabit a reflective, slightly serious Slavic soundworld, and a few are spirited, rather squally in character. Glière had a striking gift for writing memorable melodies, which at times sound as if they might have come from the Great American Songbook.
Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata dates from 1901, the same year as his famous Piano Concerto No. 2. The score is dedicated to cellist Anatoliy Brandukov who gave the première that year in Moscow with the composer at the piano. The opening Lento. Allegro moderato is windswept music that fluctuates in mood from anxiety to delight. With an opening that reminds me of Schubert’s Erlkönig, the writing of the Scherzo wavers between skittish and serious, creating a numbing sense of unease. The passionate Andante contains much beautiful writing, especially the meltingly romantic main melody underlined by the cellist. This could easily be a musical love letter from the composer. There is a wild and dramatic quality to the Finale. Allegro mosso; the music surges forwards and upwards.
Bogdanović and Belooussova give a passionate performance but ideally I would want an interpretation with slightly more raw power. For some time, I have admired the live 1956 account of the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata played by Daniil Shafran and Yakov Flier on the Russian Revelation label (c/w Shostakovich Cello Sonata). Shafran and Flier feel totally involved in the music. Their performance is alive with excitement and high contrast. Sadly, the sound quality of that disc shows its age, but the outstanding performance serves as my benchmark.
Throughout the album, Bogdanović and Belooussova provide first-rate playing, attractive and sensitive with a restrained grace. This responsive partnership demonstrates impeccable unity and intonation. One senses the artists’ complete enjoyment at playing together. Recorded in Paris at Studio Sequenza, Montreuil, the warm sound is reasonably close with good clarity and ideal balance between the two instruments. I found Joanna Wyld’s booklet essay both helpful and easy to read. There is also an interesting note from Kirill Novosselski, great-grandson of Glière.
The rarely encountered Glière works are especially welcome on this album. Hopefully Orchid Classics might turn its attention to recording the composer’s set of string quartets. Eminently enjoyable, the album is worthy of praise. If the repertoire suits, do not hesitate.