> Medtner Prokofiev Webern Schnittke [JW]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Nicolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Violin Sonata No 1
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata for Two violins
Anton von WEBERN (1883-1945)
Four pieces for Violin and Piano
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Violin Sonata No 1
Oleg Kagan, violin with
Victor Tretyakov, violin (Prokofiev)
Sviatoslav Richter, piano (Medtner)
Vassily Lobanov, piano (Webern, Schnittke)
Recorded Pushkin Museum December 1981 (Medtner), December 1984 (Prokofiev), Tchaikovsky Hall February 1989 (Webern, Schnittke)


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Live Classics continues their Kagan edition a wide ranging and valuable series dedicated to the Tchaikovsky prize-winner and Oistrakh pupil who died too early of cancer in 1990 at the age of 44. Part of a circle that included his wife, the cellist Natalia Gutman, violist Yuri Bashmet and pianists Vassily Lobanov and Sviatoslav Richter amongst others he was known for the catholicity of his repertoire and his unjaundiced approach to contemporary music. Volume 19 finds him in congenial company in Moscow concerts spanning the years 1981-1989, the year before his death. The Medtner Sonatas have never become part of the established repertory and thats a loss to violinists and audiences alike. The first is a fluid, elegantly lyrical work of great beauty to which Kagan responds with fervent understanding. His tone is sweet but his vibrato is fast and perhaps over tense; this was something of a handicap especially in his earlier days (the commercial Beethoven Sonata recordings with Richter were somewhat bedevilled by the vibratos oscillatory tendencies) and whilst distinctive does tend to limit optimum tonal expressivity in lyrical passages. Small moments of less than immaculate playing are not troubling because the contours of the Sonata are firmly but flexibly delineated. Richter does tend to overpower Kagan in the balance at certain points in both the first and second movements but their playing of the third, the Ditirambo is joyfully and delightfully sympathetic. Medtners own recording with Cecilia Hansen in 1947, never issued at the time and only recently disinterred, is on APR, a truly great performance. The Prokofiev teams up Kagan with his exact contemporary, the redoubtable Victor Tretyakov, whose profile has risen higher in recent years. They evince good tonal contrasts; Kagan has the more rapid vibrato, Tretyakov the slower and wider. They respond with conviction to the elliptical and aggressive qualities of Prokofievs second movement Allegro and are unafraid to coarsen their tone occasionally in the interests of narrative meaning. There are real tonal and expressive depths to parts of the Commodo; the high lying writing here is more than merely anticipatory of the 2nd Concertos slow movement in both outline and feeling .The concluding Allegro con brio is fearlessly played. There are a few off stage bumps this was recorded in the Pushkin Museum and they are of no significance, even though the performers are closely miked. Kagan responds as much to the intellectual voyage of Weberns Sehr Langsam, the first of the Four Pieces, as he does to the more rhetorical violence of the last, Bewegt. He plays this very, very near the bridge with resultant ear-jarring shrillness. Thunderous piano clusters announce the arrival of Schnittkes Sonata No 1, written for Mark Lubotsky. Its seesaw sardonicism is fully explored by the violinist and by Lobanov. A suddenly musing violin, rather beautiful in an abstracted kind of way, accompanies the big chords of the Largo. Ive always thought that the concluding Allegretto scherzando was some sort of crazy Broadway musical show tune gone wrong, Bernstein-Gershwin subverted, for no obvious reason. I doubt youll hear its pungent drolleries better played. Admirers of Kagan need not hesitate, whilst devotees of the modern Soviet school of violin playing will be intrigued by both playing and repertoire; in fact theres plenty to interest everyone here.

Jonathan Woolf

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