Poulenc, Janáček, Rachmaninov: Cello Music - Amatuni, Tchetuev
Ars Produktion ARS 38 344
Classical - Chamber
Poulenc, Janáček, Rachmaninov: Cello Music
Aram Amatuni (cello)
Igor Tchetuev (piano)
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - September 17, 2023
It doesn’t happen too often that an unexpected scoop lands in my letter box. But here is one. This new release by the adventurous independent German label, ARS Produktion deserves our full attention.
Reading the name of the soloist, I wondered: Why is it that only a handful are common currency when so many excellent musicians remain under the radar? Has it to do with PR (and the currency that goes into it) or audiences that can only be lured into the concert hall if a well-known soloist is on the programme? Don’t get me wrong. Many ‘names’ are excellent musicians, but so are a growing number of ‘no-names’. The cellist Aram Amatuni is one of them.
Those familiar with the family business of Annette and Manfred Schumacher will know that one of their aims is to provide a platform for young and talented musicians. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing many of them, be it in a chamber or orchestral environment. Aram Amatuni falls into that category, but further research into his background brought me nowhere.
His -superb- profile, given in the liner notes: Educated at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler Berlin, joining in 2019 as a first desk at the Suisse Romande Orchestra and having held, from 2021 to 2023, the same solo-cello position in the Staatsorchester Stuttgart, Germany, led me to a cellist called Aram Yagubayan. ARS solved this riddle. Aram Y has changed his surname to that of his mother, Amatuni, which is “an ancient Armenian noble family, known from the 4th century in the canton of Artaz, between lakes Van and Urmia”. Maybe that's where his noble sound comes from.
His duo partner, Igor Tchetuev, is an established Ukrainian-born ‘name’ having earlier in his career impressed classical connoisseurs with a complete set of Beethoven Sonatas on the now suspended Caro Mitis label (“The domain caromitis.com has been suspended pending ICANN verification”) and also as an accomplished accompanist of Chloë Hanslip in the three Medtner Violin Sonatas on Hyperion (CDA67963). An ideal partner for a younger talent like Aram Amatuni.
At first glance, the programme looks like a haphazard combination but on closer scrutiny, I find that it resembles a well-balanced Triptych, with three distinct faces, but almost naturally flowing from France to Russia via the Czech Republic.
The first item, Poulenc’s little-known Cello Sonata -brushed aside during his lifetime as not being of much importance nor interest- was for me a direct hit. Francis Poulenc was not familiar with de cello and despite the French cellist, Pierre Fournier, the dedicatee, having been asked for advice, it still is a somewhat awkward piece of work, putting less capable musicians in a similar position. Not so Aram and Igor. What a command! It took Poulenc 8 years to complete this work; it took me 8 seconds to realize that something exceptional was happening. The warm yet powerful tone of the cello and the exemplary supportive and stimulant inter-play from the Concert Grand catapulted this sonata, as far as I’m concerned, into the realm of core repertoire.
With Janáček’s Pohádka, we sail into different waters. The waters of make-believe. A fairy tale that in the interpretation of Aram & Co has all the hallmarks of a Russian-inspired romance: Dreamy, playful, teasing and passionate, without turning this short gem into a mixture of cotton candy and countryside drama. It compares well to Matt Haimovitz (cello) & Christopher O'Riley (piano) released in the Pentatone Oxingale series, Shuffle. Play. Listen. - Haimovitz / O'Riley but due to its ‘Shuffle, Play and Listen’ environment in which it is placed, I prefer this new version, even if only for its sincerity.
The next and final step is no doubt a challenging one. Competition is phenomenal. In low as well as high definition. That may be so, but Amatuni’s and Tchetuev’s rendition of Rachmaninoff’s first Cello Sonata (I use the now common transliteration with double f at the end; and besides, that is how Sergei spelt his own name once arrived in America) stands firm.
Keeping to SACD, my first comparison was with Russian Cello Sonatas - Chaushian, Sudbin Beautiful though it is sculpted, it misses the same emotional depth. In my second example, that is just one of the major characteristics of what Johannes Moser Rachmaninov, Prokofiev: Works for Cello and Piano - Moser, Korobeinikov brings to this sonata, especially in the Second Movement, Andante, followed by a highly strung Allegro Mosso. If that version is your favourite, then you may be surprised to find how close Aram Amatuni and Igor Tchetuev get. Theirs’s is an abundance of passion and lyricism bestowed on the listener and the romantic fury that both bring to bear in the final movement, Allegro Mosso, is breathtaking.
A common effort whereby the elder, Igor Tchetuev, superbly inspires the younger, Aram Amatuni, to an amazingly mature reading that will surely find its way into the niche market of Super Audio, especially in its combination with the two other faces of the triptych. And without diminishing in any way the sublime achievement, I must, in all honesty, admit that part of the thrill lies in the quality of the recording and not least the insight, patience and support of ‘Tonmeister’ Manfred Schumacher to get the best out of each musician he works with.
There remains one final remark, though. In line with market requirements in some areas, the surround is more than just ambient hall reflection. If you like it, it is superb, otherwise, enjoy your stereo-only set-up of your playback system.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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