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Cello and Piano Duos - MYASKOVSKY, N. / SCRIABIN, A. / SCHNITTKE, A. / RACHMANINOV, S. (Russian Music for Cello and Piano) (WarnerNuzova Duo)

Cedille CDR90000-120, October 2014
   WCLV, March 2013
   Fanfare, November 2011
   MusicWeb International, February 2011
   MusicWeb International, January 2011
   WFMT (Chicago), December 2010
   Chicago Classical Music, December 2010
   The Strad, December 2010
   Classical Net, December 2010
   Russian Life, November 2010
   Classic FM, November 2010
   American Record Guide, November 2010
   The Indianapolis Star, October 2010, October 2010
   WETA, October 2010
   Strings Magazine, October 2010, September 2010
   Toronto Star, September 2010
   The WSCL Blog, September 2010
   WRUV Reviews, September 2010
   The Huffington Post, September 2010
   Fanfare, September 2010, September 2010
   Classical Candor, August 2010
   Audiophile Audition, August 2010
   Icon, August 2010

English        Spanish
See latest reviews of other albums..., October 2014

The recording quality is commendably natural and this recently formed duo perform this emotional Russian music with warmth, clarity and elegance. © 2014 Read complete review

Bill O’Connell
WCLV, March 2013

The Warner/Nuzova duo makes its recording debut with five late-Romantic Russian works on an album dedicated to the memory of one of Warner’s mentors, the illustrious Russian cellist, composer, and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich…Fittingly, two of the pieces were originally written for Rostropovich: Nikolai Miaskovsky’s rarely heard Sonata No 2 Op 81; and Alfred Schnittke’s Baroque-inspired Musica nostalgica, for violoncello and piano…It will be a discovery for most listeners. And Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in g Op 19 is a riveting four-movement work from the same period as his Second Piano Concerto. © 2013 WCLV Read complete article

Paul Orgel
Fanfare, November 2011

Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova’s performance of the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata is excellent, but there are others out there that are equal to it. Their CD is on my Want List because of their beautiful, committed playing of the well-chosen, less-familiar works on the program, and Cedille’s artistry in capturing the complex sound of Warner’s cello.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, February 2011

Wendy Warner is one of our most intelligent, cultivated cellists, and after praising her superb recital of romantic pieces by David Popper and Gregor Piatigorsky, I was ready to lend an ear to whatever music she chose to offer next. As it happens, this new full price recital of music by Russian composers is less immediately accessible, and less showy. In the long run, though, it may prove even more rewarding.

The big change from the last disc is that Warner has a new recital partner, Russian pianist Irina Nuzova. The pair seem absolutely ecstatic to have come together; one line from their booklet blurb had me pitying Warner’s former pianist, Eileen Buck: “Cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova achieve a rare artistic synergy in performance together. The melding of the musicians’ contrasting cultures and traditions is at the core of the energy and insight of their interpretations.” Except that this actually seems to be true. Nuzova has contributed a commendably smart and enthusiastic essay to the booklet introducing the recital’s centerpiece: Nikolai Miaskovsky’s Cello Sonata No 2.

It is not a demonstrative sonata. In fact, as Nuzova says with great precision, “something that does not glitter can still be gold.” Unshowy and lacking in the stereotypically “Russian” traits of vibrant rhythm and bright colors, the sonata actually feels closer to Brahms in its gentle, matured melancholy. Nuzova even supplies a poem, “Wordlessness” by Konstantin Bal’mont, which perfectly captures the spirit of the sonata: “Deep quiet. And wordlessness, utterly peaceful. / The meadows spread out faraway and forever. / In everything—weariness, muteness, and bleakness.”

Not a piece that glitters, then. But with each listen I have found it more rewarding, as an undemonstrative, unsentimental look back at an earlier time. The comparison to Brahms looms large in my memory; it is autumnal music which draws you in over time.

The Rachmaninov cello sonata is a work which glitters as the Miaskovsky does not. Wendy Warner has quite the personality as a cellist, so the piece does not, as it sometimes does, sound like a piano sonata with cello accompaniment. Warner and Nuzova’s romantic style, with flexible tempi and gorgeous sweeping phrasing, is a perfect fit for this music, especially the glorious “big tune” in the finale, and the deeply felt andante, in which we hear again just how strong, and equal, this partnership is.

In between the Miaskovsky and Rachmaninov, we are treated to three short works by three more composers: Piatigorsky’s arrangement of one of the most lyrical (and least hysterical) of the Scriabin etudes, Schnittke’s “Musica nostalgica” with its agile leaps across whole centuries of styles, and a short extract from Prokofiev’s Cinderella. This trio makes a pleasing palate-cleanser between the two main courses.

Clear, intimate chamber-hall sound and the excellent booklet notes by Andrea Lamoreaux and Irina Nuzova—as well as two poems selected by Nuzova—complete the package. My only qualm is about the cover and inside photos; Warner’s previous recital CDs for Cedille and Bridge did not seem to feature photographs as sexualized as these. The duo unfortunately look as though they have spent more time on their makeup than they have on the music—false, of course. Is this the only way to sell Miaskovsky? I hope not.

In the meantime, I will continue to anticipate new releases from the exciting duo of Warner and Nuzova. They are a pair to watch not because they make for attractive album covers, but because they bring skilled, passionate playing to intriguing programs. That’s exciting enough on its own.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, January 2011

This recital begins and ends with two big Russian sonatas, and between them come three brief pieces to form a convincing programmatic arc. Chronologically one should start with the Rachmaninov sonata but it works best at the apex of the disc, in view of its girth and also its expressive amplitude. So we actually start with the sonata Miaskovsky wrote for Rostropovich in the late 1940s. This splendid example of the composer’s eloquence is made the more so by virtue of its being very late Miaskovsky. This has tempted some players toward distension, with the ensemble team of Marina Tarasova and Alexander Polezhaev, for instance, taking it to the very limit by stretching the finale to seven and a half minutes in length. That is simply not necessary, as numerous duos have shown. The Warner-Nuzova duo navigates a steadier course through the sonata, warm, lyrical, very expressive, with a sure sense of ensemble. They make one major miscalculation in my view, however, which is to take a too-slow tempo for the slow movement. They do sustain it by means of a lusciously warm cantabile, but rather like the first two movements of Barber’s Violin Concerto, which are too often undifferentiated in tempo and mood, the current duo courts the same danger here. True, I think they mean to point up the more assertive moments in this movement as an apt foil, but my concern remains. Rostropovich—the work’s dedicatee—and Dedyukhin (in 1967) have the best solution, and even though they are faster than any other team on record, they don’t sound rushed.

Rachmaninoff’s sonata is better shaped. In outline, though not necessarily detail, it reminds me of one of my most prized recordings of the work, by Knushevitsky and Oborin back in ’62. Technical challenges are met with splendid aplomb, and the players strike a fine balance between sinew and elegantly shaped rubato. Their use of colour and texture are highly effective, and the warmth which they brought to Miaskovsky is equally palpable here, not least in the glorious slow movement. This is a sensitively traversed and very well argued performance.

The three central pieces offer an intriguing slant on Russianness. We have Piatigorsky’s transcription of a Scriabin piano Etude, which is presented with compelling intimacy, and also the adagio from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella. Bisecting them is Schnittke’s Musica Nostalgica—a droll piece of minor key baroque procedure, ingeniously spiced in the composer’s inimitable style.

The engineering has been excellently judged. A fine recital, then, with the players very properly having their own view about things.

Lisa Flynn
WFMT (Chicago), December 2010

The duo of cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova makes its debut with beautiful performances of five late-Romantic Russian works. Their album (recorded at WFMT) is dedicated to the memory of one of Warner’s mentors, the illustrious Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.

Elliot Mandel
Chicago Classical Music, December 2010

The recording of Russian music from cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova is a formidable debut album for the duo. The music—by Nikolai Miaskovsky, Alexander Scriabin, Alfred Schnittke, and Sergei Prokofiev and Sergei Rachmaninov—displays the Russian penchant for emotionally sweeping melodies that cover the entire range of the cello. Bookending the album are sonatas by Miaskovsky and Rachmaninov, the latter a standard in the repertory. Warner’s enigmatic treatment of Rachmaninov’s sonata captures its shifting moods in the introspective opening movement, the searing allegro scherzando, and the boisterous finale. The great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky transcribed Scriabin’s Etude Op. 8 for piano into an arrangement for cello and piano that recalls the style of Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile, giving cellists another emotionally rich melody. Schnittke’s Musica Nostalgica opens like a lost movement from Bach's Unaccompanied Suites for Cello, and progresses through a series of folk-like and mournful variations. The Adagio from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella is a sweet and expanding melody as Cinderella dances with the Prince at the ball. The album’s gem, however, is its opening sonata by Miaskovsky. The haunting melody of the opening movement presents as beautiful a theme as one will find in the Russian canon. The middle andante cantabile, as the name suggests, lets the cello sing. The biting finale is a whirlwind of soaring melody and sharp staccato punctuation. Throughout the recording, Warner’s tone emulates the warmth and lyrical quality of her former teacher, Mstislav Rostropovich, to whose memory she dedicates the album. Nuzova provides nimble accompaniment; the two musicians subtly share the driver’s seat without overpowering each other. As they continue to tour, listeners should look forward to more recordings of similar depth and beauty.

Joanne Talbot
The Strad, December 2010

Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova confirm themselves as high-ranking artists with this excellently recorded and produced CD of Russian music. Their attractive programme is particularly notable for featuring the lesser-known Miaskovsky Second Sonata composed for the young Mstislav Rostropovich in the late 1940s. This Romantically orientated work is given a compelling performance, in which the musically discursive moments are guided with such a sure sense of direction that one is convinced from beginning to end. The duo is especially impressive in the finale, a relentless moto perpetuo in which Warner displays her consummate technical mastery of spiccato bowing.

As a contrast to the helter-skelter conclusion to the Miaskovsky, Warner unveils Piatigorsky’s captivating transcription of a Scriabin etude by moulding the lyrical melodic line with great affection. Likewise the Adagio from Prokofiev’s Cinderella is projected with passion and ardour. Schnittke’s Musica nostalgica, which draws its material from one of the movements of his Suite in the Old Style, projects a more reserved whimsical approach, though one that doesn’t overlook the touches of humour in the music.

Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata, which concludes the programme, is a tremendous emotional rollercoaster. Both artists steer an adroit course to manage its dramatic impact with care, with the Andante particularly eloquent and poignant. Such full-blooded and committed playing can’t fail to entrance.

R. James Tobin
Classical Net, December 2010

Warner has dedicated this disc to her mentor Mstislav Rostropovich, with whom she studied at Curtis, with whom she performed internationally, and for whom she played at that great cellist's 70th birthday celebration in Moscow. She also was the first prize winner at the Fourth International Rostropovich Competition in Paris in 1990. Her playing certainly honors his memory.

Nuzova has also been a top prize winner in international competitions. A native of Moscow, she made her debut as soloist with the Omsk Philhamonic at the age of 14. She moved to the United States in the early 1990s. She studied at Juilliard, among other places, with Vladimir Feltsman among other pianists, and has a Doctorate of Musical Arts.

After successful individual careers, and sometimes playing together, Warner and Nuzova formed the WarnerNuzova Cello and Piano Duo in 2008, specializing in Russian and American music and with the intention of commissioning new music.

Russian Music for Cello and Piano is the first CD by this duo and it amply justifies their decision to form it. They appear to be of one mind about how to play these pieces; not only is there no tension between their respective contributions but they sound as if they had been playing together for a long time, as is the case with the very best chamber groups.

This CD offers very pleasurable listening from beginning to end. The Miaskovsky, one of the last works by this prolific symphonist, who died in 1950, is a lovely work in three movements. For Nuzova, it reflects the mood of a sad Russian symbolist poem which reminds her of her homeland. Its text is included, in Russian and English. Perhaps it is my lack of Russian soul, but I have not found the music particularly melancholy, even though it is in a minor key, though the middle movement, Andante cantabile, does reach impassioned intensity. The opening movement, Allegro moderato, might well also have been called cantabile, as it is songful and soaring, with beautiful, long legato lines for the cello and an appealing part for the piano. The finale is lively. Tempos seem just right, throughout.

The other major work, Rachmaninoff's 1901 Sonata in G minor, is much better known in the west than is the Miaskovsky, and there are many other recordings of it, but these artists simply went ahead and put their own imprint on it. The performance has clear articulation end expressive playing by both performers, throughout. I am not particularly a fan of Rachmaninoff, as I overdosed on his music when young, but the romanticism of this piece is not over the top. To my ears, the middle movements are most appealing. The Allegro scherzando has greatly varied tempos and dynamics and the cello part ranges from a skipping effect to short sharp attacks, which particularly reflect Rostropovich's legacy. In the Andante, Warner's broad legato playing with good firm tone, and Nuzova's subtle expression, are especially notable.

The other pieces on this disc are pretty much encore material. Piatagorsky's transcription of Scriabin's piano etude is successful. Schnittke, a composer of many styles, treats us here to a Bach-like opening and an utterly weird off-key slide which was surely intended, but I have no clue as to why. The Prokofiev is an exquisite waltz for Cinderella and the prince, from Act II of the ballet.

Highly recommended.

Paul E. Richardson
Russian Life, November 2010

American cellist Wendy Warner and Russian pianist Irina Nuzova, who have been performing together for a few years as the WarnerNuzova Duo, present a warm, and satisfying recording in this collection of works by Miaskovsky, Prokofiev, Scriabin, Schnittke and Rachmaninov. Cedille specializes in recordings of music that is rarely performed in public, but should be, by artists that are not widely known, but should be. The sound quality on this disc is simply superb, and there is a line of grace and sweet melancholy running through every piece, as one would expect on a cello collection that explores the Russian soul.

Emma Barker
Classic FM, November 2010

The Music Rachmaninov’s Sonata Op. 19 is one of the most important in the cello repertoire, full of rich melodies and sighing cadences yet contained in a lean, well-argued structure. The discovery is the Myaskovsky Sonata No. 2—a beautifully crafted, late-Romantic sonata written for Rostropovich that’s rarely heard outside Russia.

The Performance Wendy Warner is a warm, confident and lyrical player who allows the narrative of the music to unfold like a well-told story—a skill that can only come from having real insight into the architecture and soul of this music. She and pianist Irina Nuzova make a compelling case for the neglected Myaskovsky sonata and their Rachmaninov is well-paced.

The Verdict Strongly recommended performances of Russian cello repertoire that will have a broad appeal beyond core cello aficionados.

David W Moore
American Record Guide, November 2010

The playing is a most effective mingling of lyric passion and effortless virtuosity. Altogether, this is an unusually fine release.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Jay Harvey
The Indianapolis Star, October 2010

A well-recorded disc of music for piano and cello by Russian composers is among the newest releases by the Cedille label of Chicago. Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova are the duo, playing two substantial pieces at either end of the program.

Nikolai Miaskovsky’s Sonata No. 2 in A minor is flowing and lyrical, in contrast to the dense statement of duo virtuosity that makes the Rachmaninoff cello-piano sonata a perennial favorite for teams with sufficient stamina and the ability to take the long view. At 34 minutes, the length and seriousness of the Rachmaninoff work makes it a veritable Kreutzer sonata for cellists.

All in all, a well-chosen program, played with consistent mastery.

Warner and Nuzova program three contrasting short pieces in between: A Piatigorsky transcription of a late romantic etude by Scriabin, Alfred Schnittke’s slightly abrasive, backward-looking “Musica Nostalgica” and Prokofiev’s piquant Adagio from Ten Pieces from the Ballet Cinderella.

David Hurwitz, October 2010

Wendy Warner is a magnificent cellist, and in Irina Nuzova she has found a keyboard partner who matches her in passion, elegance, and imagination. The result is as beautiful a chamber music recital as we have any right to expect, with the music intelligently organized to make an extremely satisfying full program. Miaskovsky’s lovely sonata, written for Rostropovich in the late 1940s, can sound monotonous, with two moderately-paced movements preceding the lively finale. Not here. Warner and Nuzova time each movement perfectly and find so much variety of phrasing and timbre that there’s never a dull moment. Instead, we focus on the music’s abundance of soulful lyricism before the brilliant finale brings the piece to a virtuosic close.

Between this work and the Rachmaninov, Warner and Nuzova offer three charming short pieces: Scriabin’s Etude Op. 8 No. 11, transcribed by Piatigorsky; Schnittke’s Nostalgica; and the Adagio from Prokofiev’s Ten Pieces from Cinderella. They make an arresting and highly varied assortment, but it’s the Rachmaninov that’s the real prize.

Just to hear the wonderful use of rubato at the opening is a treat. Warner has a real gift among cellists: a low register that never sounds like the proverbial dying cow, and a remarkable evenness of timbre throughout her range. Nuzova, for her part, glitters in the scherzo and finale, but never overpowers her colleague. Perfectly balanced engineering puts you in the same room as the players. A stunning release.

WETA, October 2010

Cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova are so attuned to one another that their duo’s name is one word: WarnerNuzova. Warner, a protégé of the late Mstistlav Rostropovich, and Nuzova, a native of Moscow with extensive Russian training that preceded her studies at Juilliard, performed together for several years before officially forming their ensemble in 2008. They favor repertoire from their respective heritages, emphasizing American and Russian works. More important, though, is equal prominence of the two instruments in any music they play.

In their first recording together, they give us ample opportunity to hear this kind of dialogue in Russian works both familiar and rarely-heard. There are two sonatas here; the Rachmaninoff gets a fresh new reading. The other is by Nicolai Miaskovsky, and was the impetus for the duo to create this recording. Nuzova notes the popularity of this work in her homeland, and both musicians bring out its clarity and unpretentious emotional reserve. A transcription by Piatigorsky of a Scriabin keyboard etude, an adagio by Prokofiev, and a typically polystylistic encore by Schnittke round out the program.

Laurence Vittes
Strings Magazine, October 2010

Cello virtuoso Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova’s first CD is an elegant evocation of the Russian romantic soul, leading off with Nikolai Miaskovsky’s second Sonata, of which the duo is particularly proud. It has been recorded more than ten times, the label claims, but “never before by American musicians on American soil, or on an American label.”

You have to admit, it is an intriguing approach to marketing.

The rest of the CD is a lesson in creative programming. Alfred Schnittke’s “Musica Nostalgica” is an ideal aural palette cleanser in between cello great Gregor Piatigorsky’s transcription of a moody Scriabin étude and Prokofiev’s own transcription of his Cinderella’s Act Two pas de deux for Cinderella and her Prince Charming, who have just discovered each other at the ball.

The big Rachmaninov Sonata brings up the rear to remind folks just who is boss.

From the beginning of each movement, Warner goes straight to the music’s melodic soul with a disarming simplicity and laid-back breadth of line, but not so much so that she doesn’t have anything left when the really big emotional moments arrive. Nuzova throughout is an equal partner in establishing and luxuriating in the Russian romantic clime.

The liner notes by Andrea Lamoreaux, music director of 98.7 WFMT-FM, Chicago, are rich in detailed technical and contextual information. His observations are infused with a knowledge of the divergent paths represented not only by Piatigorsky and Rostropovich, but also by a more historical figure, Anatoly Brandukov, to whom Rachmaninov dedicated his Sonata.

Bradley Bambarger, September 2010

American cellist Wendy Warner pairs a huge, lustrous tone with diamond-edge virtuosity, apt for a protégé of Russian icon Mstislav Rostropovich. She is ideal in this set of 20th-century Russian pieces with Moscow-bred pianist Irina Nuzova. The Adagio from Prokofiev’s ballet “Cinderella” could melt the hardest heart, especially when played with Warner’s passion. The Sonata No. 2 by Nikolai Miaskovsky, a contemporary of Prokofiev, brims with dark lyricism. A Scriabin etude transcribed by cello great Gregor Piatigorsky comes across like an operatic aria, while Alfred Schnittke’s “Musica Nostalgica” is a postmodernist dream of old Russia. Rachmaninoff’s big Cello Sonata is another experience in melodic melancholy, with Warner’s tonal palette all woody brown and smoldering red.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, September 2010

Chicago-based pianist Irina Nuzova and cellist Wendy Warner serve up a substantial platter of 20th-century chamber music that starts with the gently wistful Cello Sonata No. 2 by nearly forgotten composer Nikolai Myaskovsky and ends with the big-and-bold Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano by Sergei Rachmaninov. In between is a transcription of a piano étude by Alexander Scriabin, the winkingly old-fashioned “Musica Nostalgica” by Alfred Schnittke and the aching “Adagio” from the Cinderella ballet suite by Sergei Prokofiev. There’s plenty to savour in the music as well as in the interpretations. Warner’s cello playing is a compelling mixture of iron and silk, while Nuzova’s fingers sound like they’re dancing lightly over the piano keys.

The WSCL Blog, September 2010

For their debut CD, the duo WarnerNuzova pay tribute to one of Warner’s mentors, the late cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, with whom Warner studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Nikolai Miaskovsky’s late Sonata No. 2 was written for Rostropovich, as was the charming Musica Nostalgica by Alfred Schnittke. The disc also contains Gregor Piatigorsky’s transcription of an Etude by Scriabin; the Adagio from Ten Pieces from the Ballet Cinderella by Sergei Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano. With extensive liner notes, poems, and personal reflections by Warner and Nuzova.

WRUV Reviews, September 2010

A collection of works exemplifying Romantic to modern music of a few Russian composers: Maskovsky, Schnittke, Scriabin, Prokovief and Rachmaninov performed by the duo of Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova.

Try trks 1, 2, 4-7, 9, 10

Alan Elsner
The Huffington Post, September 2010

I’m generally suspicious of national stereotypes but a new CD recording of cello and piano works by Russian composers illuminates and gives life to the concept known as the “Russian soul.” The recording by Chicago-based Cedille Records brings together cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova in a collection by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Scriabin and Schnittke. But it’s the opening work by a composer I had never heard of, Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881-1950) that was the real headliner for me.

Miaskovsky, who served on the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory from 1921 until his death, composed 27 symphonies, however he never won the fame of his contemporaries, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. His work is little performed today. But from the first notes of his Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, Op 81, which opens this CD, one is struck by the lyrical beauty and deep melancholy of the piece which seems to express something quintessentially Russian. It’s simply a gorgeous and moving piece of music that has never before been recorded on American soil by an American artist by an American label. How exciting to discover a new landmark of late Russian romanticism, which alone is worth the price of this recording!

The very useful program notes which accompany this CD includes an essay by the pianist, Nuzova who grew up in Russia but moved to the United States as a teenager to escape anti-Semitism. The sonata, she says, has a pervasive, nostalgic quality that is subtle and subdued in its expression. Nuzova says the music reminds her of a poem by Konstantin Balmont (1867-1942) called “Wordlessness” and she includes an English translation.

Let me just quotes one stanza:

“The reeds are unstirring, the sedge doesnn’t quiver.
Deep quiet. And wordlessness, utterly peaceful.
The meadows spread out faraway and forever.
In everything - weariness, muteness and bleakness.”

The poem is a perfect fit for the music.

Cellist Wendy Warner, also has a Russian connection. As a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, she had the rare opportunity to learn from the legendary Russian virtuoso and human rights activist Mstislav Rostropovich.

She and Nuzova, both strikingly attractive in the cover photo, meld together seamlessly in this CD. They also give us a witty, minor-key minuet by Schnittke, a Prokofiev transcription from “Cinderella,” an encore piece by Scriabin and Rachmaninov’s sprawling Cello Sonata...which is delivered with utter conviction and intensity.

Cedille has been around for 20 years, devoted to showcasing classical artists from the Chicago area. We must be thankful to the company for bringing us two undiscovered gems - the Miaskovsky and the beautiful poem by Bal’mont.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, September 2010

The “find” for me on this disc was the Miaskovsky. I’ve not always come away with uniformly favorable impressions from previous, though admittedly limited, encounters with this composer. But his 1949 A-Minor Cello Sonata is a gorgeous post-Rachmaninoff Romantic outpouring. Shame on me that I’d never heard it before now, especially since a comprehensive Internet edition of the composer’s complete works and recordings, compiled by Onno van Rijen (, lists some 16 versions, a few, it’s true, by some fairly obscure artists on equally obscure labels. Nonetheless, Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova are not the first duo to discover its beauties. They revel in the score’s riches, Warner drawing a tone of great depth and vibrancy from her cello, while Nuzova matches her partner with luxuriantly resonant sound across her piano’s full range.

Rachmaninoff’s well-recorded, if not over-recorded, cello sonata was probably not in need of another version, but if it had to have one, Warner’s and Nuzova’s needn’t take a back seat to any of them. Technically, Warner’s playing is first-rate, with spot-on intonation, clean articulation, and alert rhythmic pointing. The cellist also displays a great deal of sensitivity to the music’s particularly Russian ethos and pathos, though she herself is not Russian. But Rachmaninoff, the giant who bestrode the piano, could not help but write a work in which his instrument played an equal, if not dominant, role. The composer himself resisted the idea of calling the piece a cello sonata, insisting that it was in fact a sonata for cello and piano. Thus, one must judge performances of the piece as much by the pianist’s contribution as by the cellist’s. Nuzova rises to the occasion, never once flinching at the enormous technical difficulties Rachmaninoff’s keyboard writing poses. This wouldn’t be the only version of the piece I’d want in my collection—Mischa Maisky’s live performance with Sergio Tempo from the 2005 Lugano Festival is electrifying, and Alexander Kniazev with Nikolai Lugansky on a Warner Classics CD is perhaps even more “Russian” than are Warner and Nuzova—but what I like about the Warner-Nuzova matchup is that of an absolutely co-equal partnership in which neither player defers to the other in asserting the importance of her part.

The Scriabin etude transcription is quite lovely, though the annotator to the Naxos CD of Scriabin’s complete etudes, George Ledin, Jr., describes this op. 8/11 etude as having a “Tchaikovskyan undertaste.” I’m not sure whether to take that as being better or worse than an “aftertaste.” Surely, it suffers no more from the lugubriousness that one commonly encounters in Russian music, and which is discussed at some length in the above interview.

The Schnittke Musica nostalgica is a hoot, or perhaps better put, Haydn at a hootenanny. Warner and Nuzova play it for all it’s worth, which, to me, isn’t much, while Prokofiev’s Adagio movement from his own transcription for cello and piano of 10 pieces from Cinderella makes a fitting disc filler. Recommended.

Mike D. Brownell, September 2010

Each highly gifted and sought-after performers in her own right, cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova officially joined forces in 2008 to create the WarnerNuzova Duo. In celebration of their Russian musical roots (Nuzova was born in and studied for a time in Russia; Warner is a protégé of Rostropovich), they have selected for their first album a selection of Russian music for cello and piano. This is certainly not an unusual programming idea, but their choice of literature goes outside of the box. With the exception of the oft-recorded Rachmaninov sonata, Warner and Nuzova choose pieces with which listeners may be less familiar: the magnificent but woefully underplayed Myaskovsky Second Sonata, the elegant Piatigorsky transcription of Scriabin’s Op. 8/11 Etude, the playfully clever Schnittke Musica nostalgica, and charming Prokofiev Adagio from Cinderella. Throughout the disc, Warner and Nuzova put forth technically spotless playing, extremely tight ensemble playing, ideal balance between the two instruments, and a real sense of a singular musical vision...Warner’s sound is strong and focused—easily heard over the piano...listeners will enjoy a rapturous performance of the Rachmaninov sonata alongside convincing introductions to works that may be less familiar.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, August 2010

Fans of Cedille Records don’t need me to tell them that three major elements characterize the company’s products: (1) Music that performers don’t often play in public and other companies don’t often record but which otherwise can hold keen interest for listeners; (2) artists who are not always as well known to the public as musicians pushed by the bigger labels, musicians who are, nevertheless, of the highest calibre; and (3) sound quality of an excellence you wouldn’t expect from a small, independent record company. This latest release, Russian Music for Cello & Piano, exemplifies everything that is good about Cedille.

The program begins with the Sonata No. 2 in A minor for Cello and Piano by Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881–1950), which Miaskovsky completed in 1949 and dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich. It’s a lovely, lyrical, slightly melancholy, endlessly gracious piece of music, its three movements creating a single beguiling effect. After that is the Étude No. 8 for Piano Solo (1894) by Alexander Scriabin (1872–1915), here in a transcription for piano and cello. It is also gentle and faintly melancholy, representative, no doubt, of the deeply moody Russian soul. The Musica Nostalgica for Cello and Piano (1992) by Alfred Schnittke (1934–1998) comes next, a brief piece that pays tribute to the eighteen-century minuet form in a kind of tongue-in-cheek manner. The little Adagio from the ballet Cinderella (1945) by Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953) follows, a waltz transcription the composer made himself. Finally, the program ends with the Sonata in G Minor for Cello and Piano (1901) by Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943), the longest work on the disc, its four movements thoughtful, complex, and expansive as Rachmaninov can often be. The Andante is particularly appealing.

The performing duet of Wendy Warner on cello and Irina Nuzova on piano play as all good partnerships should, as one. In their case, it’s almost as if one performer were playing both instruments, they are so attuned to one another’s feeling and responses. The two women, who have been performing together as the WarnerNuzova cello and piano duo since 2008, play with style, with grace, with refinement, and with deep emotional attachment, yet always placing the music above any showmanship on their part. Most important, however, they appear to reach into the heart of this heart-wrenching music and convey its inner spirit with not only clarity and precision but with ultimate passion. They are consummate artists.

Cedille, under producer James Ginsburg and engineer Bill Maylone, recorded the album in October, 2008. As always with this company, the results are realistically natural, warmly detailed, and profoundly satisfying.

Lee Passarella
Audiophile Audition, August 2010

While the majority of the composers represented on this disc aren’t generally thought of as Romantic or even neoromantic, the music here is cannily chosen so that one can’t object too strongly to the title “Russian Romantics.” Strangest piece of all, as you might expect, is Scnittke’s Musica nostalgica, which sounds like the work of a Russian Fritz Kreisler, one of those pseudo-Baroque recital pieces with which the violinist fooled his public back in more musically innocent days of the last century. (And despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the general decline in music education and appreciation, consider that Kreisler wouldn’t be able to foist his patently phony imitations on today’s audiences: they’re just too sophisticated, thanks to the wide availability of recorded music.) Schnittke’s piece starts off convincingly enough with a series of double-stops right out of Bach’s Cello Suites but then veers into strange territory as the cello tosses ever more harmonically challenged chords and high harmonics into the mix. Call this Schittnike’s Musical Joke. You can’t just chalk it up to his typical polystylism; he’s obviously laughing up his sleeve.

No joking around in Myaskovsky’s Sonata No. 2, written (as was Schnittke’s piece) for Mstislav Rostropovich. The Sonata sounds like it might have come from the beginning of the composer’s career—with its ripe melancholy themes and simple harmonies—but instead it comes from the very end, following the Soviet authorities’ denunciation of Myaskovsky and other leading Russian composers in 1948. It may have been a way to deflect the criticism. In any event, it’s a lovely work even if it almost seems to predate Rachmaninoff’s confidently late-Romantic Sonata in G Minor of 1901.

Of the other pieces on this program, Scriabin’s Etude Opus 8, No. 11, comes from that composer’s early, Chopin-inspired phase. It’s marked Andante cantabile and has the same air of melancholy that hangs over the slow music in the Myaskovsky and Rachmaninoff works. Piatigorsky’s singing transcription of the piece emphasizes this feature.

The Prokofiev is taken from Ten Pieces from Cinderella, most of which are lighter, brighter bits from that ballet. The Adagio is probably the most serious and reflective of all and even in this transcription (by Piatigorsky again, I believe) is instantly identifiable as Prokofiev, with its open chords in the piano, its odd, plaintive turns of phrase. As with most of Prokofiev’s work from the Soviet period, the Adagio uses a simpler, less overtly modernist musical language to get its point across. Still, Romantic is not a word that comes immediately to mind when I think of it. I’m glad for its inclusion nonetheless.

Chicago cellist Wendy Warner plays with a rich tone and spot-on intonation as well as a perfect understanding of the subtle and not-so-subtle stylistic differences that inform this music of different eras, different esthetics. Her partner, Moscow-born and American-educated Irina Nuzova, is in full accord with Warner, whether supplying the ripe chords of the Scriabin or the intricate passagework of the Rachmaninoff.

Cedille’s sound favors Warner, capturing her instrument with a flattering fulsomeness, but leaving the piano slightly in the shade. Actually, this might be a natural kind of balance; hi-res recordings, with the added clarity and depth that they bring, may have spoiled me. But don’t let any reservations on this score keep you from sampling what is certainly a very well-played, well-chosen program.

Icon, August 2010

This duo of Russian pianist Irina Nuzova and American cellist Wendy Warner beautifully parade a stimulating cross-section of works by beloved 20th century Russian composers Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Scriabin and modern cats Miaskovsky and Schnittke. As performed by this twosome, these pieces have certain commonalities—deep, rapturous emotional expression that avoids schmaltziness and technique for the sake of etc. Warner’s fluid, amber-hued cello is one of the most plaintively poetic sounds this writer has heard all year and Nuzova’s style is stark, lyrical, and rhythmbound.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group