Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Sonata No.2 in D major, Op.94bis (1943) transcription for clarinet by Kent Kennan [26:02]
Overture on Hebrew Themes in C minor, Op.34, for clarinet, string quartet and piano (1919) [9:25]
Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Sonata for clarinet and piano, Op.28 (1945) [18:55]
Annelien Van Wauwe (clarinet)
Lucas Blondeel (piano)
Shirly Laub (violin), Samuel Nemtanu (violin), Marc Sabbah (viola), Bruno Philippe (cello)
rec. Academiesaal, Sint-Truiden, Belgium, 2014

The Violin Sonata No. 2 was originally composed for flute and piano and only became Op.94bis after the transcription for violin and piano requested from Prokofiev by David Oistrakh. It easily and happily transfers to the clarinet as if it had been meant for it originally. The instrument's rich warm tones seem both perfectly natural and simply luscious. It was composed while Prokofiev was evacuated to Alma Ata, capital of the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan in 1942-43. The remit of all composers was to create music that spoke directly to the people. Since it was wartime music should additionally help lift the spirits. As it turns out there is absolutely nothing here to suggest that life was anything other than joyous. This sonata is so full of good tunes it is true testimony to Prokofiev’s artistry and unmistakeably unique voice.

Weinberg’s star is definitely in the ascendant with recordings of his works a frequent occurrence. I for one have reviewed more than 15 discs of music by him in the last three years. His music is infinitely approachable and this sonata is a perfect example of that. The second movement would be route to discovering what he has to offer for anyone wishing to dip their aural toe in these musical waters. The ‘exotic’ is never far away in Weinberg’s music for he often weaves in traditional Jewish klezmer themes with their rich resonance; this movement is a case in point. The sonata was composed when he was only 26 and in self-imposed exile during the war, in his case in Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. The sonata’s last movement is a much more serious affair than the two preceding ones with an echo of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. This was inspired no doubt by the thought of his family which he had been forced to leave in occupied Poland. He was sure their fate was sealed and about this he was regrettably correct.

The disc moves apparently seamlessly from one Jewish theme to others with Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes. The booklet notes inform us that this work has its origin variously attributed to an offer by Prokofiev to compose a piece for the Jewish ensemble Zimro or a request by them for him to do so. He composed it while in exile in America and it was responsible for introducing klezmer themes to the general public in the USA. Until then the genre/style had only been known by Jewish communities who had brought the music with them from their homelands in Eastern Europe. Prokofiev seemed to be rather dismissive of the Overture saying that it was composed in just two days with a simple structure using “pre-existing themes, (and) a conventional technique”. Nevertheless he made a version for orchestra. In its sextet version it remains a popular work by this marvellous composer.

Annelien Van Wauwe is a highly talented clarinettist with a wonderfully fluid technique though at times I felt she held herself back a little too much. Her interpretations would perhaps benefit from a touch more daring, something I’m sure will come with experience. She is more than ably accompanied by Lucas Blondeel whose sympathetic playing makes them an ideal duo. The musicians who join them in the last item make that work a very pleasant closing piece for this enjoyable disc.

Steve Arloff

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