Rachmaninov – Shostakovich – Bekova Sisters – CR3911


“Both protagonists capture the agility of the Allegro scherzando and convey a real sense of enjoyment”


RACHMANINOV (1873-1943). Cello Sonata in G minor Op. 19

This confident and masterly work came at an important time in Rachmaninov’s life. His mid-twenties were marked by a period of creative stagnation. Tolstoy had tried unsuccessfully to help him overcome the depression which this caused. In his Personal Reminiscences Rachmaninov recalls ’He made me sit next to him and stroked my knees. He saw how nervous I was. And then, at table, he said to me, “You must work. Do you think that I am pleased with myself? Work. I work every day,” and similar stereotyped phrases.’ The Musical Quarterly, xxx (1944), p. 185. The turning point for Rachmaninov came, however, in 1901 with the completion and successful premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 2, followed almost immediately by the 1st performance of the Cello Sonata. The cellist (and dedicatee) was Brandukov, with Rachmaninov himself playing the virtuoso piano part. The score is dated 12th December, which is 10 days after this performance. It seems, therefore, that Rachmaninov was able to benefit from the experience of playing the work before committing himself to a final version.

Though the Sonata is rich in melody it is characterised even more by vitality and rhythmic impulse. The relationship between cello and piano is one of equal partners. He uses piano textures which are very much his own and are not to be found in other cello sonatas of the period. The weighty 1st movement is followed by a piquant scherzo. The slow movement is intensely romantic and the finale brings the work to an exuberant conclusion.

SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975). Cello Sonata in D minor Op. 40

Although only 33 years separate the two works the stark atmosphere of Shostakovich’s post-revolutionary Russia stands in striking contrast to the lush romanticism which Rachmaninov inherited. Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata is his first important chamber work. Like Rachmaninov he was just 28 at the time of the first performance, which he gave on Christmas Day 1934 with the cellist Viktor Kubatsky, to whom the work is dedicated. Three days later an article appeared in Leningradskaya Pravda in which he writes:”… I would like to get my own work in order soon. It has developed rather haphazardly up to now. By work I do not mean only writing the music to sound films, etc., but everything which nourishes the artist’s creative process. This includes both close contact with surrounding reality and detailed study of the heritage of classical music. I am becoming increasingly aware of how little we really know about the world’s music.”

It may be, however, that the individuality of his musical style owes something to the cultural isolation of which he complains. A powerful thread runs through his music, binding together the characteristic repetitions of musical figures which are such a notable feature. His textures, thinner than those of Rachmaninov, are neither too light nor too heavy.

The 1st movement is serious but buoyant. It concludes with a fine coda in which the main subject returns in a very slow Largo tempo. The Scherzo which follows is unrelenting in its heavy accents, with a certain Mahlerian acidity relieved only in the Trio section. The slow movement is the emotional heart of the work, starting quietly and rising to a white-hot climax before its energy is finally spent. The Finale opens in mock innocence. Then come exaggerated outbursts of virtuosic fantasy for both cello and piano. The music appears to be moving to a quiet conclusion when suddenly the musicians storm out slamming the door behind them. © 1989 Michael Freyhan.

The BEKOVA SISTERS (formerly the Nakipbekova Sisters), Alfia, cello, and Eleonora, piano, were bom in Kazakhstan, the Soviet Republic of Central Asia. From a very early age they performed extensively throughout the Soviet Union as soloists, a duo and as a trio with their violinist sister Elvira.

Whilst still studying at the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in Moscow, they won several important international music contests such as the Piano Trio Competition in Yugoslavia, the Paganini Violin Competition in Italy and the Casals Cello Competition in Budapest, Hungary.

The Bekova Sisters rapidly became a household name in virtually every Republic in the USSR through their numerous appearances on National Television, performances in major Concert Halls and Radio recordings.

Review: – Music Web International

This is a re-release of a disc originally issued in 1989. Two of the three Bekova sisters, caught here in their pre-Chandos days, present two Russian cello sonatas on this disc. The coupling is a good one: the yearning, passionate Rachmaninov goes well with the serious, more internalised Shostakovich.

Alfia is capable of long, singing lines, and so in the Rachmaninov the nostalgic quality of the first movement and the wistful character of the third come off well. Both protagonists capture the agility of the Allegro scherzando and convey a real sense of enjoyment.

Perhaps the profundities of the Shostakovich remain slightly out of reach for the Bekovas. Despite being technically accurate, the second movement is played on the surface, although the Largo does emerge appropriately angst-laden.

Daniil Shafran offers the same coupling on Russian Revelation RC10017, a preferable alternative if you want to get to the heart of this music. The present offering is a more workaday affair which, despite many moments of beauty, never really takes off. Colin Clarke.