Yuki Ito & Sofia Gulyak play Rachmaninov at the Wigmore Hall

Yuki Ito (cello, above), Sofia Gulyak (piano, below)

2 Pieces for cello and piano Op.2 (1891/2)
from the Morçeaux de fantaisie Op.3: Élégie; Mélodie; Sérénade (arr. Ito, Mélodie arr. Vlasov (1892)
Prelude in G flat major Op.23/10 (arr. Brandukov) (1903)
Lied for cello and piano (1890)
5 Songs: Morning Op.4/2 (1892), I the silence of the secret night Op.4/1 (1892), Lilacs Op.21/5 (1902), How fair this spot Op.21/7 (1902), Spring Waters Op.14/11 (1896) (arr. Ito)
Cello Sonata in G minor Op.19

Wigmore Hall, London; Saturday 2 June 2018

Written by Ben Hogwood

Rachmaninov’s music for cello and piano dates from the early part of his life, starting in teenage student years and working through to the mature sonata of his late twenties. With the addition of some judicious arrangements, Yuki Ito and Sofia Gulyak built a most attractive program for this concert, the last in the AVEX Recital Series at the Wigmore Hall for 2017-18.

They began near the start, with Two Pieces published as Op.2 in 1892. Rachmaninov’s gift as a melodist was already clear, as was his affinity with the piano, which already had a few demands placed on it here. Gulyak, as she did throughout the concert, proved an ideal partner, reining in the big textures where appropriate in the second piece, an attractive Danse orientale, so that Ito’s probing melodic line could still be heard.

A series of arrangements – maybe a couple too many in context – followed, several of them made by Ito himself. Rachmaninov’s songs have a register that fits the cello perfectly, as do the early piano pieces – and the Elegie and Sérénade, both Ito arrangements from the Morçeaux de fantaisie published as Op.3, worked well alongside a Mélodie arranged by Alexander Vlasov.

Of the following pieces the rich lower register of the Lied, an original cello piece, was beautifully brought to the fore by the Japanese cellist, while in the song arrangements the ardour surrounding In the silence of the secret night was nicely complemented by the higher arrangement of How fair this spot, and the onrush of the Spring Waters, where Gulyak’s control was exemplary.

And so to the Sonata, by far Rachmaninov’s biggest chamber work. It represents the culmination of his friendship with cellist Anatoly Brandukov in 1901, and is packed full of big tunes and tempestuous fast music. Once again the control and phrasing of Sofia Gulyak was key, and she was extremely attentive to Yuki Ito’s sensitive phrasing in the big-boned statements of the first and fourth movement in particular. The second movement scherzo, fleet of foot, had a tense drama about it, while the slow movement’s romantic tunes were lovingly delivered by Ito. The players returned for an encore, which was naturally more Rachmaninov – the Vocalise Op.34/14.

This was a fine chamber music concert, full of good things, with both players receptive to Rachmaninov’s style, phrasing and emotion. Yuki Ito is a fine young cellist, and has great things ahead of him – and as long as he continues to surround himself with musicians of the calibre of Sofia Gulyak, he will surely do extremely well.

For more information on Yuki Ito and Sofia Gulyak’s new disc of Rachmaninov, head to the Champs Hill website or listen on Spotify below:

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