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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No.3 in E flat major Op.12 No.3 (1797-98) [18.52]
Violin Sonata No.5 in F major Op.24 Spring (1801) [22.04]
Violin Sonata No.9 in A major Op.47 Kreutzer (1803) [32.55]
Leonid Kogan (violin)
Emil Gilels (piano)
Recorded live in Leningrad, March 29th 1964
DOREMI DHR 7845 [73.52]

Though Doremi doesnít mention it Ė they do rightly stress the unique recorded collaboration between Kogan and Gilels as sonata partners enshrined here Ė this is the only extant example of Koganís Spring sonata so far unearthed. As such itís a major document. He left behind recordings of the Op.12 No.3 and the Kreutzer, the former with a regular sonata partner Mytnik, the latter with Ginzburg, though these are hard to find and Iím not sure theyíve ever been re-released on CD, even in Japan.

Kogan was a wonderful player whose deterioration toward the end of his life in no way diminishes his great achievements. Technically impeccable, expressive, warmly communicative without effusion, with a wide palette of tone colours and a sometimes on/off vibrato (not to all tastes) he was a noble exponent of the canon, as well as an inquisitive proponent of newer music as well Ė not every Soviet-era fiddle player had a go at Arthur Benjamin and Gershwin.

So my anticipation at this sonata recital from Leningrad in 1964 was high. He, Gilels and Rostropovich formed the Soviet Unionís Billion Rouble Trio and though their recordings are amongst the greatest made in the trio medium the twenty or so sonata performances that Kogan and Gilels gave together have not previously been documented. There are many magnificent things here from both musicians though my ear was drawn rather more often to Gilels than to Kogan when it came to sonority and weight. Technical address can be taken as read, musical direction is principled, unostentatious and subject to no obviously incursive rubati or to any extremes of tempo or tempo variation. In all three sonatas the unanimity and ensemble discipline that marked their trio recordings is always apparent. If you sense a "but" coming itís this: Koganís tone.

The recording, whilst responsive to Gilels, has dealt Kogan a rather steely blow. Itís not easy for me to say with absolute certainty that this is solely the fault of the recording. Playing recordings of the many 1960s Moscow recitals Kogan gave, ones that were released in a big Melodiya LP retrospective in the 1980s (multi-volume, gatefold-sleeved doubles) one hears the Kogan of old. His tone is a bewitching one, full of the most subtle variations and colours. Here in Leningrad from the same period we hear a violinist whose tone is steely, brittle and occasionally unpalatable in the lower strings. Much of this is in the recording but in the Spring Kogan doesnít seem willing to take flight melodically and its slow movement is rather bracing and not especially warmly vibrated. Itís only later on that he seems fully warmed up and the scherzo and finale are fine and spirited though once more, steely.

The balance throughout this trio of recordings is not ideal but seems rather better in the Kreutzer. Fortes though are harsh, Koganís chording sounding brittle. The pacing of the sonata is excellent, with the variations of the second movement phrased with acumen, in the same way that Kogan shapes the second movement of the E flat major with such acute judgement. In the end though thereís little light and shade - and few real dynamic variations. And however impressive it is to have such a titanic meeting of musicians, of equal standing, the deficiencies of the violin sound (as recorded or as played, or a combination thereof) mean that this disc will be of a highly specialised appeal.

Jonathan Woolf



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