Schubert sonatas

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Piano solo and duet
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Nikolai ROSLAVETS (1880-1944)
Violin Sonata No.1 (1913) [16:16]
Violin Sonata No.4 [15:33]
Violin Sonata No.6 (published 1996) [28:43]
Three Dances (1923) [9:04]
Solomia Soroka (violin)
Arthur Greene (piano)
rec. Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Indiana, December 2005
NAXOS 8.557903 [69:37]


The usual critical position is to view Roslavets as a creative compound of Scriabin and Schoenberg, a visionary who worked independent of the latter and was eventually crushed by the Soviet system. Certainly the early atonal experimentation was later to be replaced after his 1929 denunciation with a far more malleable and acceptably simple style. This trajectory is reflected in this recording of the first, fourth and sixth violin sonatas.

Cannily perhaps or just to confound the listener Naxos has programmed the sonatas to reflect the opposite trajectory. We begin with the undated but late Sixth Sonata, a big rather later romantic and decidedly Brahmsian piece. It’s also quite loose and discursive with soloist Solomia Soroka employing some period devices to point up the succulence of the writing. The central movement has maybe a touch of Grieg and a reminiscence of French style in the sonata repertoire, the more lyric and effusive wing of the French repertoire rather than the Franco-Belgian hothouse of Franck and Lekeu. The fluttering arabesques of the finale coalesce with the lyrically sensuous central section. Here the piano can sound rather overpowering in the balance.

The Fourth Sonata is undated. Predicated at least structurally on Scriabin’s piano sonatas it seems to me to share as much with Szymanowski. The piano writing is emphatic and there is here unlike the Sixth (this is a considerably earlier work) a real sense of billow and passion, a hothouse drama played out with concision and power. Though the notes mention that Roslavets trained as a violinist they don’t mention that he studied with Jan Hřímaly, one of the many émigré Czech musicians who taught and played in Russia and were profoundly influential on the emergent Russian School. It was doubtless from the cosmopolitan Hřímaly, who died a couple of years after the premiere of his pupil’s shocking First Sonata, that Roslavets learned the wider violin repertoire.

That First Sonata, widely accepted as the first such atonal work produced by a Russian composer, came shortly after his graduation. He always claimed to have worked independent of Schoenbergian procedure and there seems no reason to disbelieve him. The booklet notes quote Miaskovsky in his day job as a critic admiring but puzzling over the sonata’s newness. It certainly must have come as a pungent shock. Abstract juxtapositions and terse material are here but so too is a soaring late romantic lyricism; Roslavets moves between the two in bewildering and generous openness. This naturally only adds to the queasy emotive stability of this one movement sonata.

As an envoi we have the Three Dances published in 1923. Once again there is a certain residual influence of Scriabin but in the central dance, a crepuscular Nocturne, an unmistakeable Szymanowski patina.

The recording sometimes rather favours the piano in climactic moments though one wouldn’t want to make too much of this. Both Solomia Soroka and Arthur Greene, who wrote the notes, sound inside the terse, coagulant bloodstream of Roslavets’s imagination, drawing out some portamenti and colouristic devices to point up his febrile romanticism.

Jonathan Woolf


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