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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in A, Op. 13 [24:59]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D, Op. 94a [21:31]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Sonata in G minor, Op.1 No.10, Didone abbandonata [10:59]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Suite Hébraîque [12:28]
Maurice RAVEL (1875–1937)
Pičce en forme de habanera [2:55]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Romanian Folk Dances, Sz.56 (arr. Zoltán Székely) [4:35]
Miriam Solovieff (violin)
Jan Natermann (piano)
rec. January 1960 (Tartini, Bloch, Ravel, Bartók), February 1961 (Fauré, Prokofiev), Hannover Studio A, North German Radio
MELOCLASSIC MC2030 [79:01]

Miriam Solovieff’s commercial discography is meagre to say the least. Only Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra under Mario Rossi has had some limited mileage. The LP, sadly never transferred to CD, can be heard on Youtube, and Solovieff’s solo contributions are ravishing. The booklet notes to this newly released offering from Meloclassic state that she recorded the three Brahms Violin Sonatas with Julius Katchen in the 1960s, but suffered a breakdown which halted proceedings. I could find no evidence of such a recording – maybe it was left unfinished. I would be delighted if any reader could enlighten me further. This is the second volume of broadcast recordings that Meloclassic have issued, so they are of immense value (review of first volume).

If it hadn’t been for a chance encounter at a concert in 1928, featuring the ten year old Ruggiero Ricci in a sensational debut in the Scottish Rite auditorium in San Francisco, the city in which Solovieff herself was born in 1921, she may never have taken up the violin. She started with the piano, and made good progress by all accounts. Despite pleas, her parents were reluctant for her to swap allegiance to the violin, but reluctantly agreed for her to take it up as a second instrument. She became a violin pupil of Robert Pollack at the San Francisco Conservatory. He later left for Tokyo, so she continued studies with Kathleen Parlow, via a short stint with Carol Weston her assistant. Progress was swift, and she performed the Bruch Concerto aged 10. Then it was off to Louis Persinger, teacher of Menuhin and Ricci, in New York. She later spent a year with Carl Flesch in Belgium, who put the finishing touches to her artistry.

When war broke out she returned to America. Tragedy struck not long after when her estranged father shot her mother and sister, then turned the gun on himself. All three died, with Miriam making a narrow escape. She spent a brief spell in the army, married, and then went playing for the troops in Europe. In the 1950s she relocated to Paris, where she took up teaching. She died there in 2004.

The recordings on this latest release derive from two studio/radio broadcasts from January 1960 and February 1961. I’m amazed at how fine they sound, with both violin and piano equally balanced in the mix. Jan Naterman, a pianist I can find no information on, is a superb collaborator, making light of the virtuosic demands of some of the pieces.

The Fauré Sonata’s opening movement is played with burning ardour and sincerity, yet the passion isn’t overdone. It works well. The Andante is eloquent and sufficiently languorous. In the playful Allegro vivo that follows, the syncopations are rhythmically precise and Solovieff’s spiccatos have bite and crispness. The finale is relaxed and flowing. Solovieff’s tone isn’t the warmest I’ve heard, rather it has a silvery quality, moderated by a mid-range vibrato. Her intonation is spotless, which adds to the pleasure. The Prokofiev Sonata, the other work aired in the 1961 broadcast, started life as a flute sonata. David Oistrakh requested that the composer transcribe it for violin, and Prokofiev duly obliged; it was premiered by Oistrakh and Oborin in Moscow in June 1942. There’s plenty of warm lyricism in the first movement, and wit and puckishness in the Presto. It’s the finale that I enjoy the most, and the players here deliver it with generous helpings of energy and skittish humour.

The remaining four works were set down a year earlier. The performance of the Tartini Sonata has never been bettered. Following a seductively contoured opening, the Presto is played with gusto and panache, technical difficulties tossed aside nonchalantly. The Bloch calls for a broad tonal palette, and Solovieff's range of colour is ideally suited to this three movement suite, here given an idiomatic reading, capturing fully the Jewish-inflected writing.  Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances are equally appealing and conveyed with true gypsy swagger.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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