Great Russian Cello Sonatas
The Prokofiev and Shostakovich Cello Sonatas performed by prize winning cellist and pianist Suren Bagratuni and Adrian Oetiker.
...exceptional performances...Quality is established in the first bars of the Prokofiev...Bagratuni and Oetiker rivet attention...expressive interpretation. -- Peter M. Knapp, The Patriot Ledger, August 26, 1998
impressively bold accounts...the soaring finale of the Prokofiev is nearly worth the price of the disc. -- Peter J. Rabinowitz, Fanfare Magazine, November/December 1998
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Suren Bagratuni, a 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition silver medalist currently stationed at the University of Illinois, offers up impressively bold accounts of these two popular sonatas. They could, I suppose, be called straightforward readings, in the specific sense that, unlike many other post-Volkovian artists, Bagratuni doesn't fuss at the details, doesn't try to pry the music apart in pursuit of traces of the composers' clandestine oppositional politics. But straightforwardness does not, in this case, entail the pall of uneventfulness we get from Mørk and Vogt (Fanfare 21:3).
True, Bagratuni is, as James H. North pointed out in a perceptive review of his first Ongaku release, "a singer rather than a virtuoso" (19:6). And in both works, he foregrounds the approachable melodic content with his supple and effusive (but always firmly focused) lyricism: Indeed, the soaring finale of the Prokofiev is nearly worth the price of the disc itself. But while this requires curtailing the modernist elements (not to mention the irony) of the Shostakovich, Bagratuni (in contrast to Mørk) doesn't entirely skirt its more disturbing qualities either: The second movement may not be quite as manic as it sometimes is, but the weighty readings of the A sections have plenty of relentless drive, and the hallucinatory colors of the central panel are given their due.
He has a responsive partner in Adrian Oetiker (currently teaching at the Basel Conservatory): Note how well they balance the contrasting colors and articulations of the enigmatic episode that closes the first movement of the Shostakovich. And while the confusion of poet Mayakovsky and composer Miaskovsky is only the first of many errors plaguing the notes (or their translations—it's hard to assign blame when the Russian-language originals aren't provided), the most important aspect of the production—the recorded sound—is unimpeachable. In sum, these are not the sort of interpretations that challenge your understanding of the music. But if you're looking for honest and unpretentious performances of this repertoire that will wear well, they most definitely merit your attention.