Nikolai RAKOV (1908-1990)
Violin Sonata No.1 (1951) [21:50]
Violin Sonata No.2 (1974) [12:04]
Violin Sonatina No.2 (1965) [6:52]
Violin Sonatina No.3 Little Triptych (1968) [6:47]
Three Pieces for violin and piano (1943) [12:39]
David Frühwirth (violin)
Milana Chernyavska (piano)
rec. December 2009, German Radio Berlin, Studio Gärtnerstrasse
Nikolai Rakov is little more than a name in reference sources, though much of his obscurity is due to his position in Russian music being eclipsed by such eminent contemporaries as Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Kabalevsky and their confreres. Rakov (1908-90) developed into a fine violinist and was later taught by Glière and Prokofiev. He displayed a very personal approach to his folkloric heritage, always subtly integrated and deployed. It’s not surprising that he was himself a fine teacher, and amongst his many students numbered Schnittke, Karen Khachaturian, Andrei Eshpai and Gennady Rozhdestvensky. His violin concerto has been recorded at least twice: Oistrakh and Hardy.
All the violin works in this adventurous disc are heard in premiere recordings. There are two sonatas, two Sonatinas and a set of three smaller pieces dating from 1943, the earliest in the set. It’s as well to start here, where one notices immediately the Prokofiev-like and very crisp Scherzino. The last of the three is a Poem, a very intense, indeed neurotically high-lying affair that suggests an obvious external agenda.
The first sonata followed in 1951 and sounds much different. There’s a fulsome romantic ethos at work here, not least in the piano writing. Incremental intensity builds in the central slow movement, whilst the finale revisits the glories of the late nineteenth century school with a kind of updated Franckian quality. The second sonata dates from 1974. This is a far more impressionistic affair with a Debussy ethos very much to the fore. In fact, to my ears, Rakov alludes to the Frenchman’s Violin Sonata quite markedly throughout the first movement, and it’s a work he must have played or at least known very well. The slow movement is slightly austere, the finale full of droll exchanges and badinage between violin and piano.
The two Sonatinas, Nos. 2 and 3 are brief, as their nomenclature suggests. The Second (1965) oscillates between relaxed and more moto perpetuo impulses, adds a slightly sardonic march, and ends up with unashamed brio, perhaps recalling Rakov’s own virtuoso-inclining youth. The Third Sonatina, or Little Triptych, of 1968 is a deceptively simple affair, charmingly suave, with a violin line that hints at Shostakovich at his most unselfconsciously communicative.
Rakov’s violin music is certainly worth reviving. He’s no stylistic jet-setter, preferring established models, which he subsumes into his writing with thoughtfulness and care. Folkloric influences here are not overt. The recordings do full justice to the works. David Frühwirth is one of those underrated violinists who is, nevertheless, carving out a fine career for himself: see reviews of his Trails of Creativity, Short Stories and Seiber discs. Milana Chernyavska is the excellent and imaginative pianist. The recording is quite close, so connoisseurs of violinistic intakes of breath (sniffing to thee and me) can have some further ammunition in this disc. It’s not so bad, and certainly doesn’t detract from the engaging performances.
Jonathan Woolf  

Engaging performances … a very personal approach to the folkloric heritage.