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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 80 (1946) [28.46]
Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 56 (1932) [14.41]
Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 94bis (1944) [24.13]
Five Melodies for violin and piano, Op. 35bis (1925) [12.44]
Natalia Lomeiko (violin); Yuri Zhislin (violin, Op. 56); Olga Sitkovetsky (piano)
rec. April 2012, Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth; May 2012, Henry Wood Hall, London (Op. 56)
ATOLL ACD513 [68.04 + 12.44]

This collection on the Atoll label consists of four Prokofiev chamber works for violin but not the Sonata for Violin Solo, Op. 115. As well as being a composer Prokofiev was a concert pianist and he developed an admiration for the violin that motivated him to write a number of high quality chamber works for the instrument of which non is finer than his Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80. This truly great Russian score was composed in 1938/46 so it was actually completed after the Second Violin Sonata, Op. 94bis. This dark and intense four movement work proves to be a fairly popular choice with chamber musicians and I have attended several performances of the F minor Sonata. Here violinist Natalia Lomeiko is accompanied by pianist Olga Sitkovetsky both Russian born musicians. A bleak, shadowy character imbues the serious opening movement Andante assai and the “wind in the graveyard” effect that can send a shiver down the spine is somewhat disappointing; perhaps a touch rushed. Lomeiko and Sitkovetsky are rhythmically engaging in the tense and angry writing of the Allegro brusco, and the Andante reveals a yearning quality together with a rather curious dissociated feel. Energetic and buoyant the Finale mainly gushes with an almost incessant torrent of music. The chilling “wind in the graveyard” effect reappears, but yet again seems too subdued for my taste.

Next is the four movement Sonata for two violins in C major, Op. 56 from 1932 where Natalia Lomeiko is joined by her husband Yuri Zhislin. It’s a work I don’t see appearing too often on recital programmes, although, an accessible work that doesn’t follow the acerbic style of many of Prokofiev’s works from this period. In the short opening movement Andante cantabile Lomeiko and Zhislin ensure a grief-stricken yearning. A serious tone is given to the impressive interplay in the virtuosic Allegro movement, full of restless, vibrant writing. Marked Commodo (quasi allegretto) the gentle lyricism of the third movement feels like a depiction of an intense romantic liaison. In the Allegro con brio: Finale the dialogue between Lomeiko and Zhislin is a playful and buoyant one even though the two gypsy-like dance episodes are slightly disappointing.

Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 94bis from 1943/44 with its formal classical design was in fact adapted from his Flute Sonata, Op. 94. In the splendid opening movement Moderato Lomeiko and Sitkovetsky excel with the highly memorable bitter-sweet melodies. Spirited and invigoratingly played the Scherzo in triple-time is followed by the gentle and appealing pastoral writing of the Andante where the partnership reveals a serious undercurrent of melancholy. In the Finale a stomping and jauntily upbeat Sonata-Rondo it feels as if Prokofiev is trying to make a caustic political point.

The final work in the collection is the Five Melodies for violin and piano, Op. 35bis. A charmingly songful score from 1925 that Prokofiev transcribed with the assistance of renowned violinist Pawel Kochanski from a work for Five Songs without words for voice and piano, Op 35 written five years earlier. Opening the score the Andante is a rather reflective affair and the mood of the second piece Lento ma non troppo is not as contrasted as I expected, conveying a sense of serious concentration. Strident with an underlying melancholy the middle movement Animato - ma non allegro is followed by a very brief Andantino, un poco Scherzando a rather whimsical, easy going piece. Marked Andante non troppo this attractive final movement in the capable hands of Lomeiko and Sitkovetsky contains a sense of sorrowful refection.

There are a number of excellent alternative recordings of each of these Prokofiev works in the catalogue. My first choice accounts of the F minor and D major Violin Sonatas are from Shlomo Mintz and Yefim Bronfman, a true meeting of minds, recorded in 1987 at Cologne on Deutsche Grammophon. In addition I also relish the wonderfully vibrant performances from Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich recorded in 1991 at Brussels on Deutsche Grammophon; a release that also contains an excellent account of the 5 Melodies for violin and piano, Op. 35bis. In the Sonata for Two Violins I admire the 2009 Prague recording from the pairing of Veronika JarůškovŠ and Eva KarovŠ (members of the Pavel Haas Quartet) on Supraphon. For those requiring a recording of the Sonata for Violin Solo, Op. 115 I can recommend the engaging 2012 Concertboerderij Valthermond account from Arabella Steinbacher on Pentatone.

Recorded for Atoll in 2012 at Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth and Henry Wood Hall, London the sound engineers have provided reasonable clarity with a balance that tends to slightly favour the piano. Nimbus Records who produced this release for Atoll have the policy of staying under the 79 minute mark for a single disc to ensure that CD is not rejected by some players. The total music here is 80:54 which is the reason why this is a double set. Rather limited is the booklet essay by Natalia Lomeiko that contains her thoughts on the works and very short biographies of each of the three performers. In addition I’m unsure why the timings for each movement have not been provided. Overall this is a most satisfactorily performed release yet it doesn’t have enough positives to outshine the fierce competition.

Michael Cookson



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