Nina Kotova Rachmaninov Prokofiev Cello SonatasNina Kotova
Rachmaninov. Prokofiev
Cello Sonatas

Fabio Bidini, piano

Warner Classics, 2017


Cellist Nina Kotova and pianist Fabio Bidini, give in this album a wonderful rendition of the Cello Sonatas composed by Sergey Rachmaninov and Sergey Prokofiev and of two short pieces by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

The recording opens with Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G minor, Op.19, one of the composer’s earliest works. It was completed in 1901 and dedicated to cellist Anatoly Brandukov, who played at the first performance in Moscow in December 1901, with the composer at the piano. I would like to quote a few lines from the booklet, written by Kotova together with Barrett Wissman, which explains some aspects of this work: «in addition to the melodic and harmonic richness, elegiac spontaneity and dynamic variation found in Rachmaninov’s compositions from the years immediately following his creative crisis, the composer ushered in a new era with his unique take on instrumental virtuosity. Technically demanding elements for the cello and piano were no longer just an end in themselves, but a vehicle for expression and for the music itself. This is very much in evidence with the Sonata. Anton Arensky considered this Sonata to be a turning point and the beginning of a new era in artistic development and compositional history from which “great things would come».

Prokofiev’s Sonata in C, op. 119, has been composed almost half a century later, in 1949, when he has been already accused of formalism and much of his music was banned. He composed this work without knowing if it would be performed in public. Prokofiev was anyway determined to write a composition for Mstislav Rostropovich after he attended one of his concerts and was impressed by his technique. The Sonata is dedicated to Rostropovich, who played at the premiere, with Sviatoslav Richter at the piano. Miaskovsky, who attended the performance, wrote in his diary that this was «a miraculous piece of music». Prokofiev’s Sonata is actually considered one of the most important works for cello written in the XX century.

The last two pieces of the album take us back in the XIX century and are taken from two collections written by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. They are Romance from op. 51 and Meditation from op. 72, arranged for cello and piano by Alexander Vlasov.

Kotova shows in these works her perfect technique and plays all of them with uncommon grace and elegance, which colour the music with a shade of romanticism. There is something enchanting in the way she stresses the melancholy in the first movement of Rachmaninov’s Sonata, where an unusual strength reveals itself little by little and emerges in the next movements until the joyous finale, led by optimism and faith in the future. This last movement is definitely a manifesto of the joie de vivre and Kotova and Bidini play it with liveliness and taste.

Prokofiev’s Sonata is equally brilliant and successful, but here Kotova expresses a different kind of feelings, more delicate and tempered, and the first movement (Andante grave) stresses unequivocally the contrast with the previous work. I would like to remember en passant that it is in this movement that the instruments imitate the sound of church bells. The most striking of the pieces is the last one, Allegro ma non troppo, where Kotova and Bidini give prominence especially to its merry character with remarkable artistry.

Lastly, the two pieces by Tchaikovsky ends the recording with a touch of refinement. Kotova plays them stressing the different sensitivity of Tchaikovsky from the more “tangible” inspiration of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev and the result is that Romance and Meditation have two lovely, poetic interpretations, which take us in a world of dreams. This is the right end for a magical recording, where anything is wrong and a heartfelt inspiration never fails to be hypnotic.