Russian Music for Cello & Piano; Nikolai Miaskovsky: Sonata No. 2 in A minor, Op. 81; Sergei Prokofiev: Adagio from Ten Pieces from Cinderella, Op. 97b; Sergei Rachmaninoff: Sonata in G minor, Op. 19; Alfred Schnittke: Musica Nostalgica; Alexander Scriabin: Etude, Op. 8/11. Warner Nuzova Duo, Wendy Warner, cello, Irina Nuzova, piano. Çedille CDR 90000 120, © 2010, TT 68:55, $16.00.

The program surrounds the three shorter, encore-size works (presented in reverse alphabetical order) with the two major ones, those two presented in alphabetical rather than chronological order. This is sort of the opposite of what a standard live performance might do, but it works very nicely for home listening. Although there are numerous recordings available of the Rachmaninoff (68 at Arkiv Music; this one is not listed there), this is the first American recording and the first by an American cellist of the Miaskovsky (where this one does appear), a work much better known and more frequently played in Russia and Europe. The CD is dedicated to the memory of Mstislav Rostropovich, the dedicatee of the Miaskovsky (1948) and Schnittke (1992) works. The transcription of the Scriabin piano étude was made by the great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Prokofiev himself transcribed the Adagio from his piano suite of music from his ballet; it corresponds to a pas de deux. The Schnittke is also based on a dance rhythm, a minuet. Rostropovich recorded each sonata once, the Miaskovsky in 1967 and the Rachmaninoff (written in 1901) in 1956, both with Alexander Dedyukhin at the piano. He also recorded the shorter works, some of them more than once.

Warner is based in Chicago, Nuzova in New York City; they have been playing together for a decade, but this is their first recording. It was wise for them, and fortunate for us, that they chose an all-Russian program. They are both imbued with the Russian sensibility, though for different reasons, having traveled different routes to imbibe and absorb it. Warner was the protégé of Mstislav Rostropovich, beginning with her student days at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, winning the fourth International Rostropovich Competition in Paris in 1990, performing as soloist under his baton on numerous occasions in various locations around the world, and also in duo with him. Nuzova is Russian, a native of Moscow and product of the Gnessin Conservatory, having come to the US in the 1990s, studied at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, and completed her DM at the Hartt School in Hartford, CT, in 2009. They officially formed and launched the Warner Nuzova Duo in 2008.

After credits on the inside of the cover and track listings/timings on page 3, the accompanying booklet opens with a presentation of the Duo, followed by detailed descriptive notes about the music by Andrea Lamoreaux, music director of Chicago’s 98.7 WFMT classical music radio station, curiously in an order that is neither alphabetical, chronological, or performing, but begins with the most famous of the works, the Rachmaninoff. These are followed by “Thoughts on Miaskovsky” by Nuzova that includes two poems, one of which is translated into English for the first time (both Russian originals and English translations are provided for both). Bios of the musicians close the text. Two color photos of the Duo are included; one on the cover and one on page 4 preceding the intro, and one of each artist faces her bio.

Nuzova says in her “Thoughts” that the Miaskovsky “… speaks to the Russian soul and mind, but it is subtle and its private lament is subdued in its expression. […] the music is rather introverted and does not sweep up the listener the way Rachmaninoff’s sonata does.” This music is the epitome of Russian late Romanticism, a genre that is often overly sweetened and played with extravagant gestures and gushing emotion, but there is nothing saccharine about it in this performance. This is a considered, subdued reading that aims for and finds the soul of the works, even the short ones, without sacrificing their lyrical and nostalgic moments. There is no gratuitous rapturous and voluptuous emoting here, not even in the Rachmaninoff, which some musicians and listeners seem to believe calls for that sort of playing, although by all accounts he did not play that way. Warner and Nuzova seem to understand, feel, and exude the essence of this music and communicate with each other intuitively to perform it impeccably and persuasively. I look forward to their next release and assume that it will be equally carefully planned and arranged and equally sublimely played.