The Cello Sonatas and Four Serious Songs
Leonard Elschenbrich – Cello
Alexei Grynyuk – Piano
Onyx Classics ONYXSET 4226 (2x 180g LP or CD)
By Roy Gregory
Recorded in Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios in 2022, this was a deliberate attempt by the performers to more accurately capture both the character, texture and harmonic identity of their instruments and the musical conversation that constitutes their performance. Not out of nostalgia but a belief that an analogue recording chain better captures those aspects of the music. A project three years in the planning has finally emerged, vibrant and vital, into the light of day and it has fully rewarded their perseverance…
Released as a double LP (and also on CD) by Onyx Classics, the extended playing time might give you pause for thought. You are buying into a shade over 77 minutes of music, with the longest side stretching to over 21 minutes. Yet despite that, the sound is crisp, immediate, solid and dynamic. The playing is beautifully poised and the relationship between the two is clearly highly developed. The piano is big, bold and dimensional, the cello suitably woody and vibrant, with a real sense of bow on string to contrast against the percussive qualities and measured note weight of the bigger instrument. As in any sonata performances, the piano needs to be played with the requisite restraint, so as not to swamp the accompanying instrument. It demands an intimate musical understanding, something that goes beyond raw talent. Just as Johanna Martzy favoured the barely-rated Jean Antonietti (much to the frustration of the powers-that-were at EMI, especially Walter Legge) so the Elschenbrich/Grynyuk partnership clearly works and these are beautifully rendered readings of this core repertoire. Of course, there are stand outs (the Allegretto quasi menuetto in Sonata Number 1 is particularly arresting) but the standard across both sonatas and the Four Last Songs is as even as it is impeccable. Musically, this is as powerful a statement as it is sonically. The interlocking phrases are perfectly and sensitively dovetailed, the length of the Cello’s lines a wonderful contrast to the carefully weighted and spaced notes from the piano. Dynamic scaling is beautifully presented and, together with the instrumental body and presence, really brings the instruments and the performance right into the room with you.
Ironically, there’s no information as to where the records were pressed, although they were certainly cut at Abbey Road. Surfaces on my set are flat and generally quiet, although you’ll want to replace the simple paper inner sleeves. Oh – and just in case you are wondering, the CD is good, but not close to matching the intricate timing, presence, harmonic complexity and sheer instrumental body of the vinyl.