The Rachmaninoff Sonata for Cello and Piano is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. This recording will probably be the first time many listeners hear the work, and it will be inescapably easy for them to fall in love with the lush romantic beauty of it. It's wonderful that Virgin is bringing the work to a huge audience with popular young stars to help draw in listeners. Capucon and Montero give very good performances that are spirited, lively and intensely romantic. At times it may be a bit too romantic, for example in blurring some of the transitions between emotionally distinct sections. Rachmaninoff is known for subtle yet manic emotional contrasts, and some of that is glossed over here.
The recording is close-miked, particularly on the Capucon's cello, which results in occasional noises which one wouldn't hear in an actual concert such as fretwork. Also the balance of the recording occasionally favors the cello too strongly. The balance might have been better if the instruments were not so closely miked. A larger acoustic space around the instruments could serve to equalize their stature, particularly when they are playing dynamically-contrasting parts. This is yet another reason to avoid close-miking.
There is glorious writing here that at times isn't quite being fully-realized by either performer. This probably sounds like undue criticism, given how inherently beautiful the composition is. Well-played, every note has the potential to bring tears, and this performance doesn't do that for me. There's nothing wrong with their playing, technically, artistically or even emotionally, but it doesn't quite bring out all that it could from the music. Part of the issue may be that apart from the first movement some of the faster passages are played perhaps a bit too quickly. Quickening tempi on classical music performance has been going on for a long time, but it doesn't always work well. Pushing the tempi feels rushed and may not let all the emotion develop fully. Faster is not always better, especially for classical music.
A performance of the Sonata that I like better is likely long out of print: Stephen Kates and Carolyn Pope Kobler on Bainbridge BCD6272. The Bainbridge is a minimally-miked recording by legendary engineer Leo Gar Kukla. The instruments are clearly recorded in a real space and not too closely miked. The performers have the skill and talent to get more out of the composition, and I enjoyed their rendition more. Kates and Pope Kobler also appear to bring a sharper, stronger structure and deeper conception of the work. The 1981 Bainbridge recording uses a Neumann M-49 and two AKG C414 microphones, a highly-modified Sony PCM-F1 converter and the exceptionally fine Colossus multi-channel digital converter which has vastly higher resolution and clarity than the unfortunately ubiquitous Sony PCM 1630 which is well-known for using inferior brick wall filters and inferior analog op amps. It's very unfortunate that the 1630 was the standard converter for very many recordings. It pains to think about all the music degraded by the 1630 at a fundamental point in the recording chain. The Bainbridge recording is direct to digital through a Quad-8 mixer. Definitely minimalist compared to most recordings, it is an exceptional result both technically and musically.
Capucon and Montero's arrangement of the Vocalise is more successful than their arrangement of Paganini Variation 18. The former captures most of the spirit of the original vocal and piano duet, and the cello is arguably comparable to the human voice in potential expressiveness. The Variation certainly works as its own piece, but necessarily lacks some of the colors of the full orchestra from which the string part is derived. Both transcriptions work, but the Variation at times feels thinner compared to the full orchestral work. It may be possible that other performers may be able to get more out of Capucon and Montero's nice arrangement of the transcendentally-beautiful Variations. These minor misgivings aside, both pieces are fine arrangements and wonderful music.
I'm not familiar enough with the Prokofiev Sonata to review it fully, but it seems well-played.
Overall this is a very nice disc, and I'm very glad Virgin, Capucon and Montero brought it to us, but there are arguably better performances to be found. Despite all that, I would recommend it without hesitation, particularly as an accessible, available, mainstream introduction to these great works.