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Russian Music for Cello & Piano

Overview

The WarnerNuzova duo — cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova — makes its recording debut with five late-Romantic Russian works on an album dedicated to the memory of one of Warner’s mentors, the illustrious Russian cellist, composer, and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich (1927–2007).

Fittingly, two of the pieces were originally written for Rostropovich: Nikolai Miaskovsky’s rarely heard Sonata No. 2 in A Minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 81; and Alfred Schnittke’s Baroque-inspired Musica nostalgica, for violoncello and piano.

This is the first American recording of Miaskovsky’s mellifluous Sonata No. 2, a work that’s rarely performed outside of Russia. It will be a discovery for most listeners.

Alexander Scriabin’s Etude Op. 8, No. 11, is a beautiful encore piece brimming with chromatic harmonies; Sergei Prokofiev’s Adagio from Ten Pieces from Cinderella, Op. 97b, is based on a duet from his ballet; and Sergei Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 19, is a riveting four-movement work from the same period as his Second Piano Concerto.


“The performing duet of Wendy Warner on cello and Irina Nuzova on piano play as all good partnerships should, as one. In their case, it's almost as if one performer were playing both instruments, they are so attuned to one another's feeling and responses. The two women, who have been performing together as the WarnerNuzova cello and piano duo since 2008, play with style, with grace, with refinement, and with deep emotional attachment, yet always placing the music above any showmanship on their part. Most important, however, they appear to reach into the heart of this heart-wrenching music and convey its inner spirit with not only clarity and precision but with ultimate passion. They are consummate artists.”
John J. Puccio, Classical Candor


Production Credits

Producer James Ginsburg
Engineer Bill Maylone
Recorded October 27–30, 2008, in the Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio, WFMT, Chicago
Cello 1772 Giuseppe Gagliano
Cello bow François Xavier Tourte, c. 1815, the “De Lamare” on extended loan through the Stradivari Society of Chicago Steinway Piano; Charles Terr, Technician

Reviews

  • John J. Puccio, Classical Candor
  • The Milwaukee Sentinel
  • Mark Keresman, Icon Magazine
  • All Music Guide
  • Lee Passarella, Audiophile Audition
  • Jerry Dubins, Fanfare
  • David Hurwitz, Classics Today
  • STRAD
  • Gramophone
  • BBC Magazine
  • Jonathan Wood, MusicWeb Internationa

John J. Puccio, Classical Candor

“The performing duet of Wendy Warner on cello and Irina Nuzova on piano play as all good partnerships should, as one. In their case, it's almost as if one performer were playing both instruments, they are so attuned to one another's feeling and responses. The two women ...play with style, with grace, with refinement, and with deep emotional attachment, yet always placing the music above any showmanship on their part. Most important, however, they appear to reach into the heart of this heart-wrenching music and convey its inner spirit with not only clarity and precision but with ultimate passion. They are consummate artists.”

John J. Puccio, Classical Candor

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The Milwaukee Sentinel

“Sorrow was never sweeter than in the long, slow opening theme of the Cello Sonata, which Warner rendered as a generous outpouring of dark, singing tone in deep-breathing phrases. Through most of the sonata, Brahms moves the piano and cello together in rhythm. It's as if he merged the two instruments into a single, harmonizing line, as opposed to assigning roles of melody and accompaniment. Nuzova and Warner sounded entirely attuned to this notion and to one another in this beautiful and compelling reading.” 

The Milwaukee Sentinel

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Mark Keresman, Icon Magazine

“This duo of Russian pianist Irina Nuzova and American cellist Wendy Warner beautifully parade a stimulating cross-section of works by beloved 20th century Russian composers Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Scriabin and modern cats Miaskovsky and Schnittke... Warner’s fluid, amber-hued cello is one of the most plaintively poetic sounds this writer has heard all year and Nuzova’s style is stark, lyrical, and rhythm-bound. 5 out of 5 stars.”

Mark Keresman, Icon Magazine 

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All Music Guide

 “Warner and Nuzova put forth technically spotless playing, extremely tight ensemble playing, ideal balance between the two instruments, and a real sense of a singular musical vision.”

All Music Guide

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Lee Passarella, Audiophile Audition

“Chicago cellist Wendy Warner plays with a rich tone and spot-on intonation as well as a perfect understanding of the subtle and not-so-subtle stylistic differences that inform this music of different eras, different esthetics. Her partner, Moscow-born and American-educated Irina Nuzova, is in full accord with Warner, whether supplying the ripe chords of the Scriabin or the intricate passagework of the Rachmaninoff.”

Lee Passarella, Audiophile Audition

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Jerry Dubins, Fanfare

They [Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova] revel in the score’s riches, Warner drawing a tone of great depth and vibrancy from her cello, while Nuzova matches her partner with luxuriantly resonant sound across her piano’s full range.”

Jerry Dubins, Fanfare 

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David Hurwitz, Classics Today

“Wendy Warner is a magnificent cellist, and in Irina Nuzova she has found a keyboard partner who matches her in passion, elegance, and imagination. The result is as beautiful a chamber music recital as we have any right to expect. ... Rachmaninov (is) the real prize. Just to hear the wonderful use of rubato at the opening is a treat. Warner has a real gift among cellists: a low register that never sounds like the proverbial dying cow, and a remarkable evenness of timbre throughout her range. Nuzova, for her part, glitters in the scherzo and finale, but never overpowers her colleague. A stunning release. 10 out of 10.”

David Hurwitz, Classics Today

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STRAD

“Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova confirm themselves as high-ranking artists with this excellently recorded and produced CD of Russian Music” …“Such full-blooded and committed playing can’t fail to entrance.”

STRAD 

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Gramophone

“...with a particularly pleasing warmth and texture, the performance is direct from the heart, elegant in line and sumptuous in tonal expression..” “The shorter pieces are done with absolute devotion and care and make for the perfect aural palette cleansing between the two big sonatas: decadent Scriabin by way of Piatigorsky, delightful neo-Bachian Schnittke light on wry and the love duet from Prokofiev’sCinderella as tender and passionate as can be.”

Gramophone

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BBC Magazine

“The debut of a distinguished new duo partnership.” “Warner’s playing is totally secure technically, glowing in tone-colour, and  beautifully moulded; Nuzova is an accomplished and sensitive pianist….clearly a fine-tuned partnership.”

BBC Magazine 

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Jonathan Wood, MusicWeb Internationa

“Rachmaninoff’s sonata...reminds me of one of my most prized recordings of the work, by Knushevitsky and Oborin back in ’62. (it’s now included in the Brilliant box devoted to the cellist – 8924). Technical challenges are met with splendid aplomb, and the players strike a fine balance between sinew and elegantly shaped rubato. Their use of colour and texture are highly effective, and the warmth which they brought to Miaskovsky is equally palpable here, not least in the glorious slow movement. This is a sensitively traversed and very well argued performance.”

 Jonathan Wood, MusicWeb International

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Works & sound samples

    Open external player
  • Beethoven Sonata in G minor Op. 5 no.2 - Adagio & Allegro (live/unedited)
    16:26
  • Nicolai Miaskovsky Sonata for cello and piano
    9:46
  • Brahms Cello Sonata no. 1, Op. 38. Allegro non troppo (live/unedited)
    14:59

Thoughts on Miaskovsky

By Irina Nuzova

Miaskovsky’s Sonata No. 2 in A minor is a rare gem. It was the impetus for this first recording project of the cello-piano duo Wendy and I formed in 2008. Why Miaskovsky? Because outside of Russia this special work remains largely unknown: only around a dozen recordings have been made in the last few decades, and almost every one of these involves Russian performers. We are proud to be the first to record this sonata on American soil, with an American cellist, and on an American label. But we still have strong Russian roots: Wendy Warner studied and performed extensively with Mstislav Rostropovich and Russia remains my native culture — musically and emotionally.

A Russian maxim reads, “All is not gold that glitters.” I would say that the reverse applies to Miaskovsky and this sonata in particular: Something that does not glitter can still be gold. The sonata’s pervasive, nostalgic quality speaks to the Russian soul and mind, but it is subtle and subdued in its expression. Its intrigue and inspiration may not be fully apparent upon first hearing; the music is rather introverted and does not sweep up the listener like Rachmaninov’s sonata. But Miaskovsky’s sonata is absolutely jewel-like in its clarity and simplicity.

Although Miaskovsky was celebrated in his time, his creative endeavor was still a personal struggle. Like much of the Russian intelligentsia, he was faced with the historical “break” caused by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The question was: how to resolve the profound disconnect with the past while preserving personal integrity. The newly formed proletariat ideology was not a language everyone could adopt with ease. Prokofiev found expression in liveliness and mischievousness; Shostakovich in sarcasm and irony. Miaskovsky stood to the side of those giants in a quiet way. Perhaps he had to suppress his stronger sentiments, but his voice remained his own: unsentimental yet sensitive, unpretentious yet firm, restrained yet consistent.

Miaskovsky’s music expresses its emotional reserve with dignity. His theme is nostalgia for Russia as it existed in the 19th century, preceding the turbulence of the 20th century in which he lived but to which he perhaps felt a stranger. His music does not exhibit any of the innovations from the early 20th century: atonality, polytonality, 12-tone system, or neo-classicism. Rather, Miaskovsky fits in with the romantic tradition of the late-19th century. From this perspective, his music may be thought of as neo-romantic.

Miaskovsky’s Song Cycle Op. 1 sets a poem by Baratynsky, a Pushkin contemporary. If one were to substitute ‘music’ for ‘verse’, and ‘listener’ for ‘reader’, the poem might well read as an epigraph to his creative oeuvre, as well as to the composer’s modesty.

Evgeny Baratynsky

Untitled, translated by Peter France

(…)

My talent is pitiful, my voice not loud,

but I am living; somewhere in the world

someone looks kindly on my life; far off

one of my descendants will read my words

and discover me; and, it may be, my soul

will connect with his soul, and as I

have found a friend in this generation,

I shall find a reader in posterity.

 

Мой дар убог, и голос мой негромок,

Но я живу и на земле мое

Кому-нибудь любезно бытие:

Его найдёт далёкий мой потомок

В моих стихах; как знать? душа моя

Окажется с душой его в сношеньи,

И как нашёл я друга в поколеньи,

Читателя найду в потомстве я.


In performing the A minor sonata, I am drawn towards images of Russian nature. The Russian soul is tied up in so many ways with the Russian landscape, which is, after all, one of the few enduring touchstones of our collective memory. Also, for me, having left the Soviet Union in the early nineties, it is associated with the pangs of nostalgia for my native country. Surely Miaskovsky also gained inspiration from images of the vast Russian landscape, and in particular the rich literary tradition associated with it. The first movement, in quite an organic and natural way, brings to my mind a poem by the Russian symbolist Konstantin Balmont (1867–1942). The poem, “Bezglagol'nost" (translated as “Wordlessness”), conveys the melancholy beauty and boundlessness of Russia’s fields and rivers, and their vast quietness, with its intimation of timeless sadness. No English translation existed for this poem, and I have found myself hard-put to explain its meaning to non-Russian speakers. Happily, Angela Livingstone (Professor Emeritus, Essex University, England) generously offered to make the first translation into English specifically for this recording project.

Konstantin Bal’mont

Wordlessnesstranslated by Angela Livingstone 

 

In all Russian nature there’s tenderness, tiredness,

An unrevealed sorrow, a pain that is speechless,

Unsoothable mourning, immensity, silence,

Cold height, and an endlessly vanishing distance.

 

At daybreak come out to the slope of a hillside—

The shivering river is misty with coolness,

And black is the motionless mass of the pinewoods.

Your heart feels a pang, and your heart is not gladdened.

 

The reeds are unstirring, the sedge doesn’t quiver.

Deep quiet. And wordlessness, utterly peaceful.

The meadows spread out faraway and forever.

In everything - weariness, muteness and bleakness.

 

At sunset, go into— as into cool water —

The wildness and chill of a villager’s garden—

There, trees are so strangely unspeaking and sombre,

Your heart feels a sadness, your heart is not gladdened.

As if your soul asked for the thing it was seeking     

And got in response an unmerited anguish.

Your heart did forgive, but your heart became lifeless,

And cannot cease weeping and weeping and weeping

 

Безглагольность

Есть в русской природе усталая нежность,

Безмолвная боль затаенной печали,

Безвыходность горя, безгласность, 

безбрежность,

Холодная высь, уходящие дали.

Приди на рассвете на склон косогора,—

Над зябкой рекою дымится прохлада,

Чернеет громада застывшего бора,

И сердцу так больно, и сердце не радо.

Недвижный камыш. Не трепещет осока.

Глубокая тишь. Безглагольность покоя.

Луга убегают далеко-далеко.

Во всем утомленье — глухое, немое.

Войди на закате, как в свежие волны,

В прохладную глушь деревенского сада,—

Деревья так сумрачно-странно-безмолвны,

И сердцу так грустно, и сердце не радо.

Как будто душа о желанном просила,

И сделали ей незаслуженно больно.

И сердце простило, но сердце застыло,

И плачет, и плачет, и плачет невольно.