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RACHMANINOV CELLO WORKS
Yuki Ito & Sofya Gulyak

 

 

 
1. Rachmaninov, Sergei [13:31]
Sonata for cello and piano in g minor Op.19 - I - Lento - Allegro moderato

2. Rachmaninov, Sergei [6:56]
Sonata for cello and piano in g minor Op.19 - II - Allegro scherzando

3. Rachmaninov, Sergei [5:53]
Sonata for cello and piano in g minor Op.19 - III - Andante

4. Rachmaninov, Sergei [10:35]
Sonata for cello and piano in g minor Op.19 - IV - Allegro mosso

5. Rachmaninov, Sergei [3:37]
Two pieces for cello and piano Op.2 - I - Prelude in F

6. Rachmaninov, Sergei [5:00]
Two pieces for cello and piano Op.2 - II - Oriental Dance

7. Rachmaninov, Sergei [4:00]
Melody Op.3 No.3

8. Rachmaninov, Sergei [2:03]
Romance

9. Rachmaninov, Sergei [3:19]
Prelude in G Op.23 No.10

10. Rachmaninov, Sergei [6:03]
Vocalise Op.34 No.14

11. Rachmaninov, Sergei [2:05]
Spring Waters Op.14 No.11

Artist(s):
Yuki Ito, Cello
Sofya Gulyak, Piano

Yuki Ito, cellist of an out-of-the-ordinary instinctiveness, natural affinity for music with great intuition, senses and spontaneous combustion, certainly has the long-range - musical taste and intelligence that make all the difference in a lifetime’s career” The Arts Desk

The music of Rachmaninov has been a source of great inspiration throughout Yuki Ito’s Life. A graduate of the Royal College of Music, London, Yuki Ito was born in Tokyo in 1989 and began playing the cello at the age of 6. This new recording for Champs Hill Records forms part of his prize for winning the UK’s highest profile gateway to string players - the Windsor Festival International String Competition.

Rachmaninov composed his first piece for the cello in honour of Vera, the youngest of the Skalon sisters he had met while holidaying with family aged 17. One can hear in this short but ‘soulful’ little piece the earnestness of Rachmaninov’s intentions, originally titled Lied (the German term for an art song) but now more widely known as ‘Romance’. However, the affair was forcibly ended when Vera’s mother heard of the young couple’s habit of sitting together at dusk holding hands. Although talented, a rising young musician was thought a very poor match for a general’s daughter, and Rachmaninov was forbidden to contact to Vera again.

Rachmaninov’s next cello work, the sweetly lyrical Prelude in F, was composed to be performed in his first public concert as a pianist-composer. After its premiere by himself and Brandukov, his long time friend, in 1892, the Prelude was repeated two years later coupled with the ‘Oriental Dance’.

In 1895 Rachmaninov composed his First Symphony, a work considered by some to be the finest of his symphonic works. Rachmaninov followed this with his Op. 14 collection of songs, including ‘Spring Torrents’ (arranged for cello and piano in this recording by Yuki Ito): here we can hear a composer at the peak of his ability and ambition, writing some of the most impassioned and virtuosic piano accompaniment to be heard in his oeuvre as he portrays the exuberant and almost violent eruption of spring in Russia.

Rachmaninov’s Sonata for Cello and Piano was composed immediately after completing his breakthrough Second Piano Concerto in 1901 and was originally completed in November that year. In character the Sonata shares much in common with the Concerto, such as the typically melancholic and soulful second theme of its first movement. 


 

 


In the summer of 1890, the then 17-year-old Rachmaninov joined his cousins, the Satins, to go on holiday in their family’s rural estate Ivanovka. Before their journey from Moscow, they were joined by another family of cousins, the Skalons, to whom the young Rachmaninov was introduced. One of the Skalon sisters, Ludmila, recalled their first impression of ‘a tall, thin youth, very pale, with disordered light hair. We definitely did not like him – he was so morose, so uncommunicative. “No,” we all decided inwardly, “it will be hard to make friends with him.”’

Already a fine pianist, Rachmaninov was also a budding composer, much admired not only by his teacher Arensky but also by the legendary Tchaikovsky. This was heady acclamation for a teenager, who in childhood had been poorly managed by his now separated parents and subsequently much indulged by his maternal grandmother: so it is hardly surprising that Rachmaninov was so socially awkward and yet complacent in his own talent. Even so, he soon managed to charm the Skalon sisters with his compositional and pianistic skills, creating several pieces for the three girls to perform six hands at the piano, including a waltz based on a theme by the eldest, Natalia. But it was the youngest, Vera, then 15 years old, blithe, blonde and pretty, who most captivated him. He soon coined a number of nicknames for her including “little psychopath”, and it was in her honour that he composed his first piece for cello, originally titled Lied (the German term for an art song) but now more widely known as ‘Romance’. One can hear in this short but ‘soulful’ little piece the earnestness of Rachmaninov’s intentions. Even so, the affair was forcibly ended when Vera’s mother heard of the young couple’s habit of sitting together at dusk holding hands. However talented, a rising young musician was thought a very poor match for a general’s daughter, and Rachmaninov was forbidden to write to Vera once he returned to Moscow that August.

Thus started Rachmaninov’s relationship to the cello, the stringed instrument he preferred above all others according to the memoirs of the great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky; certainly the cello takes prime place in Rachmaninov’s handful of chamber works. His partiality for the instrument was further encouraged by his close friendship with the cellist Anatoly Brandukov (1856-1930, who incidentally became a teacher of Piatigorsky). Brandukov, who like Rachmaninov had earned the admiration of Tchaikovsky, shared the platform with Rachmaninov when, aged 19, he performed in his first public concert as a pianist-composer. It was for this occasion that Rachmaninov composed his next cello work, the sweetly lyrical Prelude in F. After its premiere by the composer and Brandukov on 30 January 1892, the Prelude was repeated two years later by the same performers, now coupled with the ‘Oriental Dance’, a piece which reflects something of the character of Rachmaninov’s opera Aleko, which he was then composing for his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory. Both pieces were published together as Rachmaninov’s Op. 2.

In the meantime Rachmaninov had composed five pieces which he collected under the title Morceaux de fantasie, Op. 3 (1892) and dedicated to his composition teacher, Arensky. These include the famous Prelude in C sharp minor – a piece which became the encore regularly demanded of Rachmaninov the pianist and which he eventually grew to hate. It seems he was rather more fond of the third piece, the Melody in E major, which he revised in 1940, though not before the great German cellist, Julius Klengel (another teacher of Piatigorsky), had made an arrangement of the Melody for cello and piano. Thus the version performed here could be said to be in some ways closer to Rachmaninov’s original conception.

In 1895 Rachmaninov composed his First Symphony, a work considered by some, including the musicologist and composer Robert Simpson, to be the finest of his symphonic works. Rachmaninov followed this with his Op. 14 collection of songs, including ‘Spring Torrents’ (arranged for cello and piano in this recording by Yuki Ito): here we can hear a composer at the peak of his ability and ambition, writing some of the most impassioned and virtuosic piano accompaniment to be heard in his oeuvre as he portrays the exuberant and almost violent eruption of spring in Russia. But then, on 15 March 1897, just five days before his 24th birthday, Rachmaninov suffered a crushing humiliation: Alexander Glazunov, who as rumour has it mounted the podium inebriated, conducted the premiere of his First Symphony, a work in which Rachmaninov had set such store. The result was a disaster and Rachmaninov, who had hitherto only known the approbation of the great and good, lost his confidence. Years later he told a friend: ‘I felt like a man who had suffered a stroke and for a long time had lost the use of his head and hands.’ He did not compose anything significant for the following three years.

Finally his faith in his own ability to compose was restored through hypnosis by Dr Nikolai Dahl. As Dahl was himself an amateur cellist, it seems significant that the work Rachmaninov composed immediately after completing his breakthrough Second Piano Concerto in 1901 was a Sonata for Cello and Piano, originally completed in November that year. In character the Sonata shares much in common with the Concerto, such as the typically melancholic and soulful second theme of its first movement. The Allegro scherzando second movement is a more pent-up affair, the steady beat of its opening metre suggesting a hurrying express train. By contrast follows the tranquil slow third movement, with its hints of distant tinkling bells such as Rachmaninov would have heard in his now favoured rural retreat of Ivanovka. And the sense of triumph to be heard in the finale is, compared to the almost stern defiance of the Second Piano Concerto’s, frankly joyous, as if expressing relief at the proven restoration of his compositional skills. In fact, Rachmaninov chose to heighten the sense of final triumph by adding the lively coda after giving the work’s premiere on 2 December 1901 with the work’s dedicatee, Brandukov.

Such was Brandukov’s friendship with Rachmaninov that he served as best man at Rachmaninov’s wedding in 1902, when Rachmaninov married Natalia Satina. Brandukov also arranged several of Rachmaninov’s piano pieces for cello the performance. Unfortunately most of these arrangements have been lost, though one that has survived and become beloved by cellists is of the Prelude in G flat major, Op. 23 No. 10 (originally composed in 1903): in making this arrangement, Brandukov had the key transposed up a semitone to G major. He also arranged one of Rachmaninov’s most popular works, the Vocalise, which was originally composed for voice and piano in 1912, and further revised in September 1915 according to suggestions by its dedicatee, the singer Antonina Nezhdanova. While the original version in E flat minor has since been discovered, it is the revised version in C sharp minor which has established itself as a beloved part of the repertoire and on which the transcription played by Yuki Ito is based.


“Simply stunning performances, aided by a wonderfully clear yet warm sound quality.”

“I would be astonished if both these artists don’t rapidly establish themselves at the pinnacle of the international scene.”

Joanne Talbot, The Strad, January 2013

"Not only does Ito succeed in the lyrical Short Pieces, with his virtuosity and passion, he leaves nothing to wish further for in the demanding Sonata."

The Ensemble Magazine, Germany

   
   

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