Perth-born cellist Catherine Hewgill has released her first recording with pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. The Decca Classics album From Darkness to Light debuted at the top of the classical ARIA charts in November. Subscribers to Noted will have an opportunity to win a copy of this beautifully made album this month. Become a subscriber before Sunday 7th January (sign up below) for your opportunity to win. 

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The album is a thoughtful pairing of performers and repertoire. It features the cello sonatas by Prokofiev and Shostakovich, two composers who fell out of favour with the soviet regime. Ashkenazy grew up under Stalin’s Russia and has a natural affinity for this music while Hewgill studied with Rostropovich, the cellist who gave the premiere of Shostakovich’s sonata in 1950.

The title From Darkness to Light reflects the many dark passages in each of the two sonatas, which ultimately resolve with the possibility of universal light and hope. The album concludes sweetly with Rachmaninov’s Vocalise.

Hewgill described making the recording with Ashkenzy (with whom she worked closely during his five year tenure as principal conductor of the Sydney Symphony) as a highlight of her career.

Catherine Hewgill grew up in Perth and began cello at age 10, continuing studies at Royal College of Music and University of Southern California. She has studied with the great cello teachers of the 21st century: Rostropovich, William Pleeth the teacher of Jaqueline du Pre, and Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelway. She returned to Australia in 1987 to play with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and then the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as principal cellist.

She and Ashkenazy make a great team – moving with flexibility and precision through the motoric rhythms of Prokofiev and the moodiness of Shostakovich. The recording, made in Trackdown Studios, Sydney in October 2016, sounds closely miked. There is an intimacy to the sound, from the guttural opening cello line of Prokofiev’s Sonata for cello and Piano Op 119 which opens the album to the wistful sadness of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, Op 34 No 14 arranged by Leonard Rose. You can hear subtle changes in volume and bowing from Hewgill and delicacy of articulation from Ashkenazy, who you can hear breathing the phrases. But the recording also has the warm resonance of a large room, able to handle for example the enormous exuberance of  the final movement of Prokofiev’s Sonata.

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Hewgill and Ashkenazy recording From Darkness to Light. Become a subscriber (sign up below) before Sunday 7th January for your opportunity to win a copy.

Ashkenazy chose the repertoire and is quoted in the booklet commentary saying “As I am Russian, it certainly feels very natural to me to identify with this great music. I very much enjoyed working on this recording with Catherine Hewgill. She is a very artistic and highly professional musician.”

Ashkenazy was born into a musical family and built an extraordinary career as a pianist, conductor and recording artist. His vast artistic output includes television projects such as Ashkenazy in Moscow which followed his first return to Russia since leaving the USSR in the 1960’s.

Hewgill said working with Ashkenazy on the 20th century Russian works was like no other experience.

“There is so much history embedded in this music, and (Ashkenzy’s) direct link to Russia and its music of this time has given him insights that make every note so much more meaningful. For me this journey with him has been one of pure joy and the making of this recording has been a highlight of my career. He has extraordinary pianistic dexterity, unstoppable energy and a crystal clear view of what he wants musically. He will continue past the point of exhaustion in the pursuit of excellence. He is inspirational in every sense of the word and has become a great musical friend.”

The album is released on Universal Music’s DECCA label 481 6562.

Become a subscriber before Sunday 7th January for your opportunity to win. Subscribers will receive an email with details on how to enter.