On two days in October 2016, Russian pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy and Australian cellist Catherine Hewgill went into the studio to make their first recording together.
An all-Russian program, it features the Cello Sonatas of Shostakovich and Prokofiev with the added pendant of the RachmaninovVocalise in an arrangement by American cellist Leonard Rose. This is their first recording for Decca (Australia).
The recording, entitled From Darkness to Light, ‘reflects the many very dark passages in each of the two sonatas, which ultimately seem to resolve themselves into the possibility of universal light and hope,’ says Ms. Hewgill, Principal Cellist of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. ‘I very much enjoyed working on this recording with Katie Hewgill. She is a very artistic and highly professional musician. Also, as I am Russian, it certainly feels very natural to me to identify with this great music,’ says Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata sees the composer on his very best behaviour. The astringent harmonies, the motoric rhythms, and the sardonic, sarcastic and pessimistic temperaments that characterized so much of his earlier music have been replaced with a more palatable lyricism, and an apparent willingness to please, instead of provoking.
Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata was written in the wake of a spell of notoriety. It was written in 1934, the same year as the premiere of his ‘shocking’ opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and was completed on 19 September that year, a week before he turned 28 and was his first important chamber work.
‘Having the privilege of working with Maestro Ashkenazy in performing these complex twentieth-century Russian works, has been like no other experience,’ says Ms. Hewgill. ‘There is so much history embedded in this music, and his direct links to Russia and its music of this time have given him insights that make every note so much more meaningful. For me this journey with him has been one of pure joy and the making of this recording has been a highlight of my career. He has extraordinary pianistic dexterity, unstoppable energy and a crystal-clear view of what he wants musically. He will continue past the point of exhaustion in the pursuit of excellence. He is inspirational in every sense of the word and has become a great musical friend.’
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Sergei Prokofiev 1-3. Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 119
Dmitri Shostakovich 4-7. Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 40
Sergei Rachmaninov 8. Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14 (arr. for Cello and Piano by Leonard Rose)