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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, op. 80 (1938) [27:57]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D major, op. 94a (1943) [23:30]
Alexandra Conunova (violin)
Michail Lifits (piano)
rec. Bremen, Germany, 2017
APARTÉ AP171 [51:29]

These excellent duo sonatas find Prokofiev at the height of his considerable powers.
The First dates from 1938, just a few years after the composer returned permanently to his homeland, while the Second is from 1943, when, along with other artists, he was evacuated away from the theatre of war to Perm in the Urals.

The Sonata No. 1 derived from an unusual intention: ‘The idea of writing a piece for violin and keyboard came to me after I heard the D major Sonata of Handel.’ For this reason there is a baroque design of four movements - slow, fast, slow, fast - while in the early stages the violin is allocated Bachian arpeggios that the dedicatee, David Oistrakh, described as resembling 'the wind in a graveyard'. This particularly atmospheric image is beautifully conveyed by Alexandra Conunova, while the recorded sound supports the subtlety of her playing.

The second movement could hardly be more different, as the unequivocal description Allegro brusco tells us. Now Conunova and her pianist Michail Lifits adopt the required aggressive tone, which is offset in due course by the lyrical lines of the third movement Andante. The finale, by contrast, is a veritable tour-de-force, and the performance is notable for its rhythmic intensity.

The Sonata No. 2 was also associated with Oistrakh, who suggested to the composer that he should adapt his new Flute Sonata for the violin. This provenance indicated music, whose personality is rather different from its predecessor, and like the contemporary Quartet No. 2, the Sonata incorporates elements of folksong. Prokofiev said: 'I wanted to write a sonata in delicate, fluid classical style.'

The essentially flowing nature of the musical inspiration is well conveyed by these artists, recalling Oistrakh's observation that the music was transcribed from the flute to the violin 'with speed and efficiency'. Melodic invention is combined with rhythmic momentum, and this characteristic brings out the best in the partnership of Conunova and Lifits.

The sonatas are presented in a nicely designed folder, with full notes that are neatly presented. If there is a caveat it is an important one: unlike the majority of its competitors, this issue offers rather less music. For example, in their equally successful and award-winning performances Alina Iragimova and Steven Osborne (Hyperion CDA67515) offer the bonus of the Five Melodies, Opus 35b, fifteen additional minutes of music.

Terry Barfoot

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