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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
String Quartet No. 1 in B minor, Op. 50 [22:49]
String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 92 [21:15]
Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34 [8:33]
Quintet in G minor, Op. 39 for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass. [17:57]
Russian String Quartet (Tatiana Berkul (violin); Maria Suchkova (violin); Elena Ozol (viola); Ludmila Krushkova (cello)); Igor Fedorov (clarinet); Mikhail Khoklov (piano); Dmitri Kotenok (oboe); Oleg Tantsov (clarinet); Yuri Goloubev (double bass)
rec. May-July 1996, Russian Broadcast and Recording Department Studio I, Moscow.
ARTE NOVA 74321 654272 [72:21]



Prokofiev seldom turned to chamber music for his means of expression. He was far more at home either with the orchestra, in the theater or at his own instrument, the piano. When he did turn to smaller forces, he did so with purpose, skill and economy of means. The four works on this recital, brilliantly and thoughtfully played throughout, show the mind of a master who had a unique sense of harmony, but also a most profound and original means of creating beautiful sonorities while never losing his infamous wit, sarcasm and playfulness. 

The two string quartets are tours de force. They rank with my two very favorite works in the genre; the solo outings of Debussy and Ravel, for their originality, their concise and taut formality and the sheer joy they reflect of a man reveling in his own genius. They are played to perfection, and each repeated listening brings some new twist of creativity to the fore. The Russian quartet are rhythmically precise without being mechanical, produce a gorgeous tone without ever being saccharine, and manage to find every smile and wink in these delightful works.

The Overture on Hebrew Themes is a brief work that pays homage to Klezmer music with its decidedly Jewish overtones. It is charming, splendidly performed. 

The standout gem here is the quintet for a strange combination of sonorities. The double bass lends a bit of a funny pomposity to the piece that is precocious rather than overbearing. Prokofiev creates a splendid little suite of miniatures that are all too brief but packed with delightful invention. Again, this is some of the best chamber ensemble playing that I have heard in ages. I was immediately captivated by the skill and panache with which these musicians perform. 

Arte Nova is a label that gets little of the fanfare that its competitor Naxos receives on this side of the Atlantic. ’Tis a shame though as their production values are every bit as high, their cover art far more interesting and provocative than the generic vanilla look of Naxos, and their notes are concise and well written. It would be nice to see as many of these discs in American record stores as Naxos, as they are every bit as adventuresome in their repertoire choices, and are deserving of a wider audience than they seem to get.

Let’s hope that the mail order services don’t disappoint when all of you hop on-line to order your copy of this fine recording. You really should have it, and I am not sharing mine!

Kevin Sutton 


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