Rachmaninov / Chopin: Cello Sonatas

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Rachmaninov / Chopin: Cello Sonatas
Alisa Weilerstein (cello) & Inon Barnatan (piano)

[ Decca / CD ]

Release Date: Tuesday 15 December 2015

Together with long-term duo partner Inon Barnatan, best-selling Decca cellist Alisa Weilerstein records two of the giants of 'cello chamber music: the Rachmaninov and Chopin sonatas.

Alisa Weilerstein's debut on Decca with the Elgar Cello Concerto (conducted by Daniel Barenboim; his first recording of this outstanding work since his earlier recording with the legendary Jacqueline du Pre) was received rapturously by critics worldwide; and her subsequent recording of the Dvorak cello concerto no less well-received.

Alisa Weilerstein and Inon Barnatan are two of the world's leading instrumentalists, and this album clearly shows the benefits of a long-lasting chamber music partnership with two exceptional musicians, captured in their prime.

The Rachmaninov Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano - premiered with the composer himself playing the fiendishly tricky piano part - is Rachmaninov's last chamber music work. One of the first major pieces to be written after Rachmaninov overcame "writer's block" with a course of hypnotherapy, this is a piece to be discovered and treasured.

Chopin's Cello Sonata in G minor is one of the few works Chopin wrote for instruments other than the piano; and the last of his works to be published in his lifetime. Remarkable for its concentration of material, no work of Chopin's gave him more trouble; "I write a little and cross out a lot", wrote Chopin. Alisa and Inon bring out a wealth of feeling in this emotional rollercoaster of a piece.

By contrast, Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise Brillante is one of his first published compositions. Full of bravura and verve, it has an undeniable feel for the spirit of the dance and a distinctive theme. Then Chopin's Etude - essentially a nocturne - brings a dramatic change of character and mood "somber, mysterious dreams" (Heller); "a song of happiness irredeemably lost" (Koczalski).

When Alisa Weilerstein and Inon Barnatan perform together, audiences are enthralled, critics enraptured. This disc sets a new benchmark for recordings of these great works, and this exceptional quality of music-making is certain to set the bar for a long time.

"The pair closed with Chopin's Sonata for Cello and Piano, a work of such fiendish difficulty that even Chopin was convinced that parts of it might be unplayable. Ms. Weilerstein and Mr. Barnatan put that notion to rest with their poise and passion, and they returned amid thunderous applause"

"it's hard to imagine many cellist-pianist duos more mutually fond of risk-taking. They certainly don't hold back in Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata, often pushing it to the brink…what emerges is an interpretation in which no single colour outstays its welcome. The same goes for Chopin's Cello Sonata, whose sense of restlessness suits this duo well" (Gramophone)

"Alisa Weilerstein and Inon Barnaton bring their own fervent enthusiasm to the Rachmaninov Sonata, especially in the luscious secondary tune that occupies the middle of the fiery Allegro scherzando, whose Slavic melody contrasts with the heated 12/8 growls from the cello in the outer sections. With such passionate, committed playing before us now, we must lament that Horowitz and Piatagorsky never set this fine piece down to commercial records. The Andante in E-flat Major achieves a personal vista of expressive longing and Russian religious doxology at once, a reminder that this sonata represents the composer's final essay in chamber music." (AudAud.com)

"The glorious ebb and flow of melodic material that courses through the veins of the Rachmaninov and Chopin Sonatas seems absolutely tailor-made for a cellist with the flamboyance and intensity of Alisa Weilerstein. In this superbly recorded recital, she delivers one of the most compelling performances of the Rachmaninov I've ever heard...Barnatan brings great musical insight and a marvellous variety of tone to the hugely demanding piano part." BBC Music Five Stars


Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65
Étude Op. 25 No. 7 in C sharp minor
arr. Franchomme for cello & piano
Polonaise brillante Op. 3 for cello & piano

Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19
Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14