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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Op. 19 (1915) [21:52]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 63 (1935) [26:33]
Sonata for Two Violins Op. 56 (1932) [16:14]
Itzhak Perlman (violin); Pinchas Zukerman (violin - Sonata)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky
rec. 23-25 October 1980, No. 1 Studio Abbey Road London (concertos); 26 October 1976, Temple Church, London
EMI CLASSICS 2081182 [64:39] 
Experience Classicsonline

On this disc we have a third time release of a classic collection of the Prokofiev Violin Concertos, plus the Sonata for Two Violins. Looked at another way this disc roughly covers the years in which the composer was an exile from
Russia, mostly in America and France. The concertos were first released in 1982, re-released almost twenty years later and are now available again on EMI Classics. Perlman was already well-established in 1982, but he had not developed some of the more mature approach he shows today. 

In the first concerto Perlman and Rozhdestvensky start off in a rather relaxed fashion-almost too much so, although Rozhdestvensky knows how to get everything out of the accompaniment. Most of the playing could be described as more satirical than poignant, although towards the end everyone livens up and the coda is truly magical. The scherzo is perhaps where we would expect the satire from first movement to be, but there is not as much as there could be. Perlman’s technique here is wonderful, but the sound of his playing is quite squeaky, mostly due to the venue, of which more later. The last movement demonstrates why Perlman is renowned: the playing is both assured and subtle. Indeed, all the problems that have occurred before vanish here. 

Perlman’s performance of the second concerto is much sharper and more emotionally straightforward. The second theme of the opening movement is beautifully played, although the development is a little rushed, a problem that intermittently continues to the end of the movement. In the Andante Perlman again injects more satire than one would expect, but there is also a lot of the charm that one expects from him. The pacing of the last movement is quite good and Perlman’s playing is very lyrical, with a searching central section.

Two-Violin sonatas are much less common than concertos, but Prokofiev's is surely the best known within this limited genre, at least for the 20th century. This recording was made even earlier than the concertos, in 1976 and the Temple Church acoustic proves unkind to Perlman in the first movement. His partner in the recording is longtime friend and colleague Pinchas Zukerman and he does not fare so badly. In the Allegro second movement the friends’ playing is first-rate, a true ensemble, and the two of them bring out a range of emotion not always heard in this piece. In the Commodo movement they are not quite as together as in the second movement, but each produces beautiful sounds. The complete ensemble returns in the last movement, with an additional satirical element. 

Rozhdestvensky’s accompaniment is totally idiomatic, not only for obvious national and historical reasons, but because he has long been one of our most valuable musical assets. As mentioned above the usually excellent Temple Church does not come through this time in the area of acoustics. The Kingsway Hall does no better with orchestral works, all of which is surprising as we know that the “golden age” producers and engineers did their best and that we have few such technical talents nowadays. It is something of a mystery, even at the remove of thirty years. While I know this disc is considered a classic I cannot heartily recommended it as “the” disc to have of these pieces due to the variance of some of the playing and recording.

William Kreindler


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