In Schubert's Company (CD review)

Maxim Rysanov, viola and conductor; Yakov Katsnelson, piano; Riga Sinfonietta. Onyx Classics 4183 (2-disc set).

You may not hear as much about Ukrainian violist (and here also conductor) Maxim Rysanov (b. 1978) as you should because he works for a relatively small record company that probably doesn't promote him as much as a big company would. Or maybe it's because he plays the viola, and the viola is not exactly the superstar of the classical world that violins and cellos are. In any case, Rysanov is a fine player, and this current album should go a long way to gain him some of the attention he deserves.

Most new albums need an angle, of course, something to draw one's interest to them and set them apart from the rest. The idea of the present program is that, called "In Schubert's Company," includes music both old and new. It contains mostly the works of Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828), but it intersperses Schubert with pieces by several of Rysanov's contemporaries, composers who say Schubert inspired their compositions. So, we see that even after almost two hundred years, a great composer can continue to inspire modern artists. The albums's two discs and 115 minutes of material make for entertaining, enlightening, and consistently fascinating listening.

The program begins with Schubert's delightful Polonaise for violin and orchestra in B flat major, arranged by Mr. Rysanov for viola (he uses an il Soldato Guadagnini). It's a splendid way to introduce the album because Rysanov approaches the piece with a sweet, leisurely warmth. The music flows smoothly, effortlessly from his viola.

Next is a short piece called "In Schubert's Company" by Sergey Akhunov (b. 1967), which won a YouTube competition Rysanov created a few years ago. One can easily hear Schubert in it, yet it is also clearly Akhunov's work as well, and it flows along with a melancholy grace.

Then there's another new piece, "Wie der alte Lieermann" for violin and orchestra, by Leonid Desyatnikov (b. 1955), again arranged for viola by Mr. Rysanov. The music is a take on Schubert's slow movement from the C major Fantasy for violin and piano, the "take" being most modern and a little jarring after the abundant ease of the first two tracks.

The first disc concludes with the longest work on the album, Schubert's Sonata in A minor for arpeggione & piano, with Rysanov on arpeggione (a six-stringed musical instrument, fretted and tuned like a guitar but bowed like a cello) and Yakov Katsnelson on piano. The piece is quite lovely and the performers do justice to it.

Maxim Rysanov
Disc two starts with Schubert's Symphony No. 5, conducted by Mr. Rysanov. Here, the conductor has rather formidable competition from Sir Thomas Beecham in an unequaled performance. All the same, Rysanov negotiates the piece with a commendable elegance, not quite matching Beecham's charming lilt but giving us plenty of sweetness and light in a slightly more rigid manner. The Riga Sinfonietta respond eagerly, with a flawless precision.

After that, it's on to a contemporary piece, Fantasy Homage to Schubert for viola and string orchestra, by Dobrinka Tabakova (b. 1980), It's kind of spacey, his description of it "a vision of floating through the cosmos," with Schubert slowly emerging as one sails along. It's the most different music on the agenda and certainly fun. Following that is another brief work by Sergey Akhunov, "Der Erlkonig" for viola and orchestra, again different in style and scope but still fascinating.

The album ends with two pieces by Schubert, the Violin Sonata No. 3, in Rysanov's arrangement for viola and piano, and Winterreise "Der Leiermann." I think along with the opening Polonaise, the sonata was my favorite music on the program. It has an enchantingly fairy-tale quality to it, and the performers handle it with a refined and affectionate comeliness.

Executive producer Matthew Cosgrove, producer and sound engineer Maria Soboleva, and engineer in Riga Normuns Sne recorded the music at the Choral Academy Music Hall, Moscow, and the Reformation Church, Riga, in March and September 2016. The viola sound is rich and warm; the orchestral sound likewise pleasing, a little dark with a touch of hall resonance to bring out its natural ambience. The sonata sounds a bit closer yet softer, nevertheless still lifelike. One also hears some extraneous noises, but they are never too bothersome or distracting. In other words, the sound is as welcome as the performances.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa