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Scarlatti Sonatas Vol 2

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Vaja AZARASHVILI (b. 1936)
Days Go By: Complete Works for Cello and Piano
Cello Sonata No. 1 (1961-99) [13:19]
Cello Sonata No. 2 (1976) [21:47]
Five Preludes (2006) [13:52]
Prelude (1976) [4:29]
Nostalgie (1991) [2:48]
Nocturne  (1987) [4:29]
Days Go By (arr. A. Suleiman) (1969) [4:34]
Sentimental Tango (1972) [1:30]
Alexander Suleiman (cello)
Irma Issakadze (piano)
rec. 2017, Stadthalle, Neutraubling, Germany
NAXOS 8.579030 [66:59]

Rob Barnett’s positive comments about this release prompted me to request it when a second review copy became available – see his review for some background about the composer. I’m not sure I’d encountered a Georgian composer before, but I had been very impressed by the piano trio of Arno Babadjanian, another Soviet bloc composer, from neighbouring Armenia, so I thought this portended encouragingly.

The two major works, the sonatas, are certainly influenced by Shostakovich. The First is in a single movement, and is episodic and to me at least, rather lacking in structure. In between the occasional angry outburst, it meanders along rather randomly and unmemorably. The Second, in four movements, three of them fast, is better, if only because the breaks provide some sense of structure and variation. The second movement is the most interesting and has what I imagine to be Georgian folk rhythms, though the notes don’t indicate that this is so.

The Five Preludes feature the most dissonance, even the waltz, and didn’t engage me at all. The remaining works, all miniatures, are mostly arrangements for this pairing, and have more lyrical appeal, but like the sonatas and preludes, are shrouded in a rather sad and gloomy atmosphere. Given the history of the region in the last century, perhaps this should not be unexpected.

My reservations about the music don’t extend to the performances, which I’m quite confident do as much as possible to provide some relief from the pervading gloom. Alexander Suleiman – a remarkable polymath, given that alongside his musical abilities, he has degrees in mathematics, physics, Latin and ancient Greek, is a tournament chess player and a member of the Magic Circle of Magicians - studied with the dedicatee of the second sonata, Eldar Issakadze, whose daughter Irma is pianist here. The recording is natural and not too close, and the three-plus pages of notes provide a good introduction to the composer and his influences, and a very readable commentary on each work.

I confess to being rather disappointed; I’d expected more life, more folk-inflected joy. If you aren’t put off by the music’s almost entirely dark and gloomy atmosphere, then its lyrical, if not memorable, nature will probably do more for you than it did for me.

David Barker

Previous review: Rob Barnett


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