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Ivan KHANDOSHKIN (1747-1804)
Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. 3, No. 1 (c1800) [19:58]
Violin Sonata in E flat major, Op. 3, No. 2 (c1800) [13:10]
Violin Sonata in D major, Op. 3, No. 3 (c1800)  [13:09]
Six Old Russian Songs (c.1783): No. 1. Along the bridge, this bridge  [5:15] *; No. 2. Is this my fate, this fate? [3:15]; No. 3. Little dove why do you sit so sadly? [5:11]; No. 4. What happened and why? [3:00]; No. 5. Once I gathered golden sheaves [2:58]; No. 6. Once I was a young man [4:07])
Anastasia Khitruk (violin)
Dimitry Yakubovski (viola) *
Kirill Yevtushenko, (cello) (Old Russian Songs)
rec. St Petersburg, May 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.570028 [70.17]
 

Bearing in mind that few people have heard of Khandoshkin, Naxos cannot be blamed for trying to attract buyers with a CD cover subtitle that manages to fit in the words, “virtuoso”, “violin”, “court”, and “Catherine the Great”. This cleverly disguises the fact that the disc mostly consists of an uncompromising diet of unaccompanied solo violin music in the form of three sonatas.
 
In the solo violin stakes Bach comes first, Paganini a long way back in second, and the rest nowhere, so Naxos must be congratulated for making available performances that are worthy examples of the genre.
 
Bach’s works for solo unaccompanied violin are often thought of as profound, intimate, spiritual meditations whereas Paganini’s are representative of what he as a performer could do to wow audiences by pushing his instrument to its limits. Khandoshkin’s sonatas, in style, content and chronology come somewhere in between.
 
Sonata form in these “sonatas” is not much in evidence. In fact the hefty first movement of the most ambitious one, No. 1 in  G minor, is in a rather unwieldy binary form and the development that takes place is more associated with variation technique rather than development in the emerging classical manner of the time, the violin figurations clearly deriving from Bach. There are though some surprising emotional twists and turns that seem to show that Khandoshkin was, like Beethoven, under the influence of Bach’s son, Carl Philip Emanuel.
 
The second movement allegro assai is a remarkably inventive piece, making much out of a simple repeating single note motive employing a range of virtuoso techniques including some vigorous multiple stopping. The last movement starts as a pleasant set of variations but it is so relatively long – 10 minutes – that it unbalances the sonata as a whole. Half way through the movement I thought, “That’s enough thank you”. Maybe this is psychological.  Approach it as a stand-alone set of variations and it would make a good piece as part of a violin recital.
 
A similar principle applies to the whole disc. I would not recommend attempting to listen to it from start to finish. Take one sonata at a time and there is much to enjoy. Khandoshkin has a melodic gift as well as an ability to produce a seemingly infinite range of textures and technical figurations that prove him to be an important composer in the rarefied genre of unaccompanied violin music.
 
The additional work on the disc is a set of unaccompanied pieces where a cello joins the violin - and in one case a viola. It is a set of Russian folk songs each treated to variations. As Kapellmeister to Catherine the Great, Khandoshkin is here satisfying  the demands of the court by being able to display simultaneously elements of Russian nationalism as well as what were thought of as advanced Western techniques. The piece is a pleasing rarity.
 
The playing of US domiciled, Russian born Anastasia Khitruk I thought really admirable. She treats the music with great respect with performances that are thoughtful, steady but sinewy. Her formidable technique seems never to be stretched but I would guess she put a great deal of preparation into the disc. She must be congratulated for taking considerable effort to bring music to light that might otherwise have been forgotten.
 
John Leeman

see also reviews by Jonathan Woolf and Glyn Pursglove

 
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