Recording of the month
BBC Music Magazine
An imaginative and impressive debut
Laura van der Heijden dazzels in both rare and well-known cello sonatas from the Soviet era, says Daniel Jaffé
From the first, richly resinous tone of the cello solo that opens Prokofiev’s Sonata, one senses that this album will be a treat. There are dozens of recordings of that work, several of them extremely good. Laura van der Heijden, winner of 2012’s BBC Young Musician competition, now joins forces with Russian pianist Petr Limonov in a performance that can hold its own, and on an album that is most imaginatively programmed.
1948 – the title of this recording – was infamously the year in which Stalin’s cultural henchman, Andrei Zhdanov, lambasted composers of the Soviet Union for writing ‘anti-people formalist music’. Prokofiev – previously widely celebrated for such hits as Rome and Juliet and his Fifth Symphony – arguably fell hardest of all. With all his greatest works effectively banned from performance, he found himself living in near poverty and powerless to save his estranged wife, the mother of his sons, from being sent to the gulag. Yet his new friendship with the young but already superlative cellist Mstislav Rostropovich clearly saved him from despair.
In writing his Cello Sonata for that great musician, Prokofiev also had the example of his old friend Myaskovsky, whose gently melancholic Second Sonata was also written for Rostropovich in the very year of Myaskovsky’s and Prokofiev’s disgrace. Yet, as these heart-felt and compelling performances by Van der Heijden and Limonov demonstrate, these are not cowed and dutifully conservative works. The Prokofiev, both melodious and neo-classical in form and proportion – like his Second Violin Sonata – is full of coulours and subtle detail which become more apparent over many hearings, each appearing to reveal new emotional vistas.
Myaskovsky’s Sonata, while more straightforward, is lyrical in a manner which engages the ear and holds the listener’s attention throughout. Van der Heijden plays with attractively songful tone throughout, rich yet grainy in her instrument’s bass register. She is well-matched by Limonov’s sensitive piano playing, their phrasing very much hand in glove and yet spontaneous-sounding.
Programmed between the two sonatas are Yuri Shaporin’s Five Pieces, composed in 1956 during the so-called ‘Thaw’ that followed Stalin’s death. A colleague of Myaskovksy’s at the Moscow Conservatory, whose students he inherited after his colleague’s dismissal, Shaporin was a product of the Rimsky-Korsakov school of composition (as were Prokofiev and Myaskovsky); his idiom is conservative yet substantive and engagingly expressive, each piece well contrasted, with touches of humour such as the tongue-in-cheek ‘spooky’ end to ‘Valse’.
How much Prokofiev and Myaskovksy’s works are rooted in nostalgia might be judged from the encore by Lyadov, their teacher at the St Petersburg Conservatory, whose soulful Prelude in B minor Op.11 is effectively arranged for cello and piano.
Outstanding, original Russian recital from a BBC Young Musician
If you expect the shadow of Rostropovich to fall heavily over this repertoire, as you might, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Nineteen years of age when she made this surprisingly appealing musical portrait of postwar Russia, Laura van der Heijden plays with a winning and refreshing determination to make this music dance and sparkle.
I say surprisingly, because lightness of spirit is not usually to be found in music from the last days of Stalin, but from the familiar opening bars of the Prokofiev Sonata it is clear that there is more to her performance than the composer’s description of its melody: ‘Mankind: how proud that sounds.’ Pianist Petr Limonov gives full Romantic rein (captured in a realistic, chamber-scaled acoustic) to piano parts that were written in balance with Rostropovich’s outsize personality and steel-strung sound.
Van der Heijden uses plenty of right elbow in the scherzos of both the Prokofiev and the anachronistic character pieces of Shaporin, but there is also some lovely portamento to be savoured, especially in the burgeoning first melody of Mysaskovsky’s Sonata which, in the hands of the 2012 BBC Young Musician winner, opens like a flower after a long winter. It’s her positive lyric impulse that puts a spring in the step of the slightly meandering stretches of both sonatas. This is much more than a ‘promising’ debut album.
Soulful Selection of Work under Stalin
Much to say...
Nearly six years after winning the BBC young musician of the year, cellist Laura van der Heijden makes her recording debut with an all-Russian disc that shows her to be, at 20, already a thoughtful artist with much to say.
The title refers to the year of Stalin’s damning decree against Soviet composers seen to be writing music for art’s sake rather than the good of the party; Myaskovsky’s defiantly lyrical Cello Sonata was written that year, Prokofiev’s – characterful yet benign – the next. Also included are a little 1885 B minor Prelude by their teacher Lyadov, and the melancholy, lovely 1956 Five Pieces by Yuri Shaporin, whose old-fashioned style had afforded him relative protection in the Stalin years.
Van der Heijden and pianist Petr Limonov bring to all a perfectly judged weight, the cello singing out long lines of sustained intensity that get to the heart of this soulful music.
Van der Heijden kan tevreden zijn over haar eersteling
Van haar eerste cd heeft Laura van der Heijden iets speciaals willen maken. De 20-jarige Engels-Nederlandse celliste krijgt niet alleen les van een Rus (Leonid Gorkhov) maar is ook in de ban van de Russische taal, literatuur, muziek. Haar keuze voor Russisch repertoire is dus niet verwonderlijk, wel de keuze die ze daarin maakt: naast de beroemde Sonate van Prokofjev speelt ze, met de pianist Petr Limonov, de Tweede sonate van Mjaskovski, Five pieces van Sjaporin en een showstuk van Ljadov. Die verrassende laatste composities hoor je zelden.
Van der Heijden, zes jaar geleden gekozen tot BBC Young Musician of the Year, kan tevreden zijn over haar eersteling. In haar beloftevolle, karakteristieke toon klinkt de leeftijd van haar eeuwenoude instrument door, maar ook de onstuimige passie van een jonge rasmuzikante voor haar vak.
Laura Van Der Heijden’s New CD Tops Among Crowded Cello Releases
It just got a whole load tougher out there for young cellists.
The first release batch of the New Year contains no fewer than four cello-piano recitals, all of them estimable. In a shrinking media environment, none will get the full-length attention they deserve. The best I can do here is short Schrift.
A performance of the Brahms cello sonatas by Jean-Guihen Qeueyras and Alexandre Tharaud (Erato **) is rather too Aimez-vous Brahms for my liking. The French accent is extremely pronounced.
The Swiss cellist Lionel Cottet, principal with Bavarian Radio SO, has what appears to be a debut album on Sony with the Mexican pianist Jorge Viladoms (**). It’s an amiable mix of French and South American composers with the late Debussy sonata incongruously at the heart of it. A sombre meditation by Ginastera stops time in its tracks, but do they really need to play Massenet’s outworn sole and another Saint-Saens Swan?
Edgar Moreau, the frontrunner in young French cellists, offers an uncommon potpourri with pianist David Kadouch on Erato (**). The opening piece is an 1898 rarity Titus et Bérénice by Rita Strohl – hands up if you’ve heard of her – and it offers a genteel introduction to Poulenc’s substantial sonata of 1940. César Franck’s violin sonata does not sit easily on the cello, especially at about half the given tempo and remaining pieces are mere morceaux.
Album of the week is, outstandingly, a record debut by BBC Young Musician winner Laura Van Der Heijden with pianist Petr Limonov (Champs Hill ****). Themed to the year 1948, when Stalin launched his assault on musicians, it presents starkly contrasting sonatas by Prokofiev and Miaskovsky, buttressed by lighter works of Yuri Shaporin and the 19th century Anatoly Liadov. Van Der Heijden refuses to prettify the grim circumstances in her playing, though she can do tender when required. These are serious, adult interpretations, properly considered and ready to contend with the best in the field.
That said, there’s a debut coming up from Laura’s BBC successor Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and Deutsche Grammophon have the young French cellist Camille Thomas up their sleeve.
It’s getting tougher out there by the week.
RUSSISCHE WERKEN VOOR CELLO EN PIANO
Jan de Kruijff
Een fijn, veelbelovend debuut
Als dochter van een Nederlandse vader en een Zwitserse moeder werd Laura van de Heijden in Engeland geboren. Met een uitvoering van het Celloconcert van Walton won ze op vijftienjarige leeftijd de begeerde BBC Young Musician of the year prijs in 2012. Vijf jaar later verschijnt haar eerste cd met een bijzonder Russisch programma.
De aanduiding ’1948’ betekent niet dat de vier werken op deze cd in dat jaar werden gecomponeerd, maar slaat op het feit dat Stalin in dat jaar zijn beruchte tweede aanval op Russische componisten uitvoerde met hinderlijke beperkingen van hun expressieve vrijheden als gevolg.
In wezen ontstond de als toegift gespeelde bewerking van Liadovs Prélude voor piano al in 1885; de sonate van Prokofiev is uit 1949, de Stukken van Yuri Shaporin zijn uit 1956 en de sonate van Nikolai Miaskovsky is inderdaad 1948. Het origineel van Liadov is onder meer te vinden in een recital van pianist Boris Berezovsky (Teldec 4509-96516-2).
Dat Liadov tot slot even om de hoek komt kijken, heeft een reden. Hij was immers de leraar van Prokofiev, Miaskovsky (Gnessin, Saminsky en Asafyev).
De betrekkelijk grote onbekende in het recital is Shaporin (1887-1966) Rostropovich en Dedyukhin maakten een opname van enige van zijn cellowerken (EMI 572.028-2). Op die cd staat ook de Sonate van Miaskovsky trouwens.
Met zijn werken in vertrouwde, traditionele stijl zal hij geen last hebben gehad van de Sovjet autoriteiten. Ook Miaskovsky bleef van nature ver binnen de grenzen van het toegestane, maar schiep wel een in zijn conservatisme heel inventief werk vol aardige gedachten. Lastig is hooguit dat het beginmotief hetgeen volgt wat overschaduwt. Truls Mørk en Jean-Yves Thibaudet maakten hier ooit een mooie opname van (Virgin 482.067-2).
De Sonate van Prokofiev is een werk uit zijn laatste levensjaren toen het revolutionaire er wat uit was en hij dit werk net als de Sinfonia concertante voor de jonge Rostropovich schreef. Die maakte van beide werken plus het Celloconcertino daar rond 1960 een opname van (Russian Revelation RV 10102).
Maar met ontzag en respect moet worden vastgesteld dat Laura van der Heyden zich niet hoeft te schamen voor haar beroemde collega’s, zoals bij vluchtig vergelijken blijkt. Vol zelfvertrouwen en beschikkend over een waar arsenaal aan techniek laat ze haar cello mooi fraserend en articulerend zingen, spreken en trillen met een goed gedoseerde intensiteit en steeds de essentie van de werken onthullend. Daarvoor heeft ze de beschikking over een Joseph Hill instrument uit 1780. Gelukkig begeleidt Petr Limonov, die eerder Nicola Benedetti begeleidde in bewerkingen van werken van Brahms, Chopin, Monti (Decca 478.5338), van Kabalevsky, Prokofiev (Onyx ONYX 4122) en van Schnittke (Onyx ONYX 4180) en zo zijn sporen verdiende op ideale wijze. Wat een fijn, veelbelovend debuut.
Russian Works for Cello and Piano
One to live with.
Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata begins with a melody low on the C string, and no expression markings: just the instruction piena voce (full voice). So it’s hard to explain exactly why Laura van der Heijden makes it sound and feel quite so right. Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t strive for effect. Van der Heijden’s tone is handsome, and her vibrato opens out to inflect the top of the phrase before the line slips without fuss beneath the piano’s answering melody. There’s a naturalness about her approach, as well as a certain earnestness – at any rate, she sounds like she takes the piece seriously.
That’s particularly relevant to a disc inspired by Zhdanov’s January 1948 attacks on Soviet composers: Prokofiev’s sonata has sometimes been cited as proof of a declawed composer toeing the party line. That’s not how it comes across here. Van der Heijden and Limonov are eloquent, reflective and (in the outer sections of the second movement) playful. Compared to, say, Matt Haimovitz’s recent account (Pentatone, 12/17) it feels reserved; but it’s an interpretation that takes nothing for granted, pregnant with things unsaid. One to live with.
The rest of the programme is imaginative: Myaskovsky’s Second Sonata actually dates from 1948 but you wouldn’t guess, and van der Heijden pours out beautifully moulded lyricism by the yard before giving a real sting to the tail of the finale. She finds a tragic side, too, to the rather dour romanticism of Yuri Shaporin’s Five Pieces. Limonov is clearly on the same page throughout, though the recording gives the piano a slightly tinny, distant sound – more of an issue in the Prokofiev than the other pieces. Otherwise, a thought-provoking debut disc from an impressive and intelligent young cellist.
Great debut album from 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year!
1948 – Russian Works for Cello & Piano
The young cellist, Laura van der Heijden scored a sensational hit as winner of the BBC Young Musician contest in 2012. For her debut recording, on the Champs Hill label, she is joined by the pianist Petr Limonov with whom she has previously given recitals at, for example, the Wigmore Hall. The album is titled ‘1948’ – the year that Stalin’s henchman attacked and derided the leading Russian composers of the day.
The main attraction of this CD lies in the two sonatas; namely Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 119 and Miaskovsky’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in A minor, Op. 81.
Prokofiev’s sonata was written for the great soviet cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. There are many fine recordings of this work on the market already including those by Truls Mørk & Lars Vogt, Pieter Wispelwey & Dejan Lazic and Rostropovich himself. However from the first notes of this performance it becomes clear that this is going to be a performance well worth listening to. These two artists bring out all of the colours in this melodious, neoclassical work as well as the subtle details and were clearly in the zone for this rather special performance. We also get a spontaneous and highly engaging account of the Miaskovsky work in which Laura is sensitively supported by Limonov.
In between these two accounts we have Shaporin’s Five Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 25 – a work that was new to me. In these cello pieces, also written for Rostropovich, Shaporin seems to have been inspired by both Prokofiev and Miaskovsky. Shaporin shows a natural gift for melody and his solid technique never fails in this work. The Aria is an expansive lyrical piece whose melancholy beauty almost reaches the level of Tchaikovsky! The Cd closes with Liadov’s Prelude in B Minor (arranged for cello and piano) which acts as a suitable encore for an imaginative and outstandingly performed debut disk.
Laura has already made a name for herself as a very special emerging talent, captivating audiences and critics alike with her insightful and faithful interpretations on stage. This CD will do much to strengthen her reputation with a wider audience. The performances more than hold their own in a crowded market place and the sound quality achieved by the Champs Hill engineers is exemplary.
JANUARY 2018 – CD of the MONTH – Laura van der Heijden’s debut CD “1948”
The winner of the BBC Young Musician Competition in 2012, Laura van der Heijden makes her debut recording with music of the Soviet era, inspired by her teachers, and by a deep appreciation of “the immense value of great art, music, and literature in Russian-speaking countries….[I] discovered the link which exists between the ‘Russian soul’ and the spiritual virtue of art”. Laura also writes: “The pieces on this album are in many ways a response to the decree issued by the communist party on the 10th of February 1948, which further restricted composers’ freedom of expression”.
Laura has already made a name for herself as a very special emerging talent, captivating audiences and critics alike with her insightful and faithful interpretations. She has appeared with leading UK orchestras, such as the Philharmonia, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, European Union Chamber and English Chamber Orchestras. Her recital partner on this recording is Russian-British pianist Petr Limonov. The works on this disc by Prokofiev, Myaskovsky and Shaporin were also the fruit of the composers’ collaboration with Mstislav Rostropovich, whose talent and energy catalysed them into writing for cello.