Two Romantic masterpieces cast in a new light

Jean-Guihen Queyras: Chopin, Rachmaninoff


The Strad Issue: September 2022

Description: Two Romantic masterpieces cast in a new light

Musicians: Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello) Alexander Melnikov (piano)

Works: Chopin: Cello Sonata. Rachmaninoff: Cello Sonata

Catalogue number: HARMONIA MUNDI HMM 902643

Coupling these two Romantic masterpieces of the cello literature makes sense, and is replicated in several outstanding recordings from artists as diverse as Paul Tortelier, Alisa Weilerstein and Natalie Clein. But the present warmly recorded release scores a distinct advantage with Alexander Melnikov’s inspired decision to use an 1858 Érard for the Chopin. So often, Chopin’s full-textured piano part can get in the way of the cello. But here clarity and balance are in perfect accord. Naturally, you also need the spectacularly light right hand that Melnikov displays, shaping but never obscuring the cello line. Equally, Jean-Guihen Queyras elicits an exquisite range of nuance, but is not afraid to power ahead for the swooning melodies and passionate climaxes (such as the ascending scales at the end of first movement’s exposition and recapitulation). The Scherzo’s winning melody at the shift to a major key is marvellously rich and fervent, and the Largo mercurially magical in its yearning.

In the booklet notes Queyras refers to Melnikov’s magical touch, and this mastery allows what is sometimes written off as a Rachmaninoff piano concerto with cello obbligato to become a supreme triumph. The music twists and turns with amazingly varied colours, be it blisteringly passionate, or inwardly brooding. Indeed, this performance has everything, from its captivating Andante to a finale whose passion is carefully choreographed but never at the expense of exhilaration.