Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63 (1935) [25:50]
Sonata for Two Violins in C major, Op. 56 (1932) [13:22]
Sonata for Solo Violin in D major, Op. 115 (1947) [10:18]
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Tedi Papavrami (violin) (Op. 56, violin II)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi (Concerto)
rec. live 2012/14, Alte Oper; Hessischer Rundfunk, Sendesaal, Frankfurt
ONYX 4142 [50:55]

Composed in 1935, the Violin Concerto No. 2 resulted from a commission by the French violinist Robert Soetens, who gave its first performance in Madrid in December of that year. The composer was in self-imposed exile at the time in Paris, and the fruits of his stay there also resulted in the Sonata for Two Violins, the ‘Western’ premiere given three years earlier, again by Soetens, partnered by Samuel Dushkin.

It was Heifetz who later took the Second Concerto into his repertoire and popularized it. Now, it is well-represented on disc. I have always found Mullova temperamentally suited to Prokofiev’s music. She has recorded the two violin sonatas, and previously took the Second Concerto into the studio in June 1988 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under André Previn (review). Surprisingly, she has never recorded the First Concerto. I reacquainted myself with this earlier reading as a preliminary to writing my review and, to my amazement, in twenty-five years, her conception hasn’t really changed. What gives this new recording the edge is the state-of-the-art sound quality, easily raising the stakes. In the earlier version, the orchestral sound is slightly recessed. Here, the Onyx engineers achieve impressive aural perspective and balance, with orchestral detail emerging with stunning clarity.

Mullova conveys a bitter-sweet character in the opening melody of the first movement. In the soulful second theme she caresses the phrases instinctively, whilst in the faster passages there is a demonstration of formidable instrumental control. In terms of colour, she invests the score with a wealth of tonal shadings. The second movement is comfortably paced, and the long melodic lines are instinctively phrased. There is an ethereal quality to the playing and, whilst it is romantically engaging, it is never cloying or overdone with syrupy affectation; the ebb and flow is gauged to perfection. The third movement’s double-stops have both bite and true grit, roughly hewn and rhythmically buoyant. Paavo Järvi proves an engaging partner, highlighting the brilliant contours and colour of the orchestral part. The castanets, especially, which augment the percussion, ring out vividly. The work is a masterstroke of scoring.

Tedi Papavrami joins Mullova as violin II in the Sonata for Two Violins. A four movement work in two-part counterpoint, it is more lyrical than dissonant. Prokofiev shows both resourcefulness and imaginative compositional skill in his interweaving of the contrasting instrumental textures. The first movement embraces a ‘recitative’ style. This is followed by a more boisterous and aggressive movement, providing some contrast. In the third movement, gentleness and expressive eloquence hold sway. The violins sound muted to me though I had no score to check. The work ends with an animated and spiky finale that is angular in parts and scurryingly busy in others. Both violinists are well-matched tonally, and this sonata gives each of them the opportunity to shine.

The Sonata for Violin solo dates from 1947. It was commissioned by the Soviet Union's Committee of Arts Affairs as a pedagogical work for talented violin students, originally intended to be performed in ensemble rather than solo. Ruggiero Ricci premiered it at the Moscow Conservatoire, after the composer’s death, in 1959. In three movements, the first is exuberant, the second is a set of variations, and the work concludes with a dance movement. Mullova plays it with technical refinement, polish and aplomb. Intonation is pristine.

All three works have been recorded live, and this contributes to the freshness and spontaneity of the performances. Applause has been retained. This is an immensely enjoyable release.

Stephen Greenbank

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