Classical Album of the Week: Gorgeous Cello and Piano Works by Rachmaninoff and Myaskovksy

Jan 29, 2020

January 27, 2020. Virtuosic, majestic, spine-tingling—Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor is one of the greatest chamber music compositions of the early 20th century, and forms the centerpiece of our Classical Album of the Week.

Performed by 25-year-old cellist Bruno Philippe and veteran pianist Jérôme Ducros, this 2019 release from Harmonia Mundi features works by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Nikolai Myaskovksy, his younger contemporary.

Myaskovsky was a highly lauded Soviet composer and professor at the Moscow Conservatory, whose 27 symphonies and other works are now rarely heard. Philippe and Ducros give his two-movement Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano the attention it deserves, with plenty of sweep, lyricism, and fire.

Rachmaninoff’s Sonata for Cello and Piano is a gargantuan work, both emotionally and technically. The many memorable moments of this great piece, from terrifying suspense in the second movement, to the utmost tenderness of the third, are conveyed with authority by Philippe and Ducros. Ducros’ pianistic cascades of notes and thundering passagework are balanced by Philippe’s tightly focused and well-phrased singing line.

Early salon pieces of Rachmaninoff’s Opus 2 (“Prelude” and “Danse orientale”) round out the album.

But wait, there’s more! Ducros offers a surprise bonus in an unusual, dramatic reading of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor for solo piano.

You’ll hear the pealing of Russian Orthodox bells and imagine a vast expanse of Russian wintry forest in his interpretation of this short, unforgettable work, which was written by a 19-year-old Sergei Rachmaninoff before he knew that this Prelude, and that he himself, would one day be world-famous.