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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op.63 (1934-35) [26:41]
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)
Violin Concerto in D minor (1940) [35:49]
Masquerade Suite (1944) [17:00]
Leonid Kogan (violin)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Kondrashin (Prokofiev)
USSR Radio Orchestra/Samuel Samossoud (Khachaturian)
rec. 1952-1956

This fascinating release spotlights the Soviet violinist Leonid Kogan (1924-1982) in two concertos that featured prominently in his repertoire. Despite his stunning virtuosity and artful musicianship, his career was somewhat eclipsed by his compatriot David Oistrakh, whose bigger and more opulent, honeyed tone seemed to win over more devotees.

The recording of the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto dates from 1956 and sees the violinist partnered by USSR State Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Kirill Kondrashin. Kogan’s silver, vibrant tone registers from the start. He’s not afraid to employ an array of expressive position changes  la Heifetz, and his intonation has the pristine purity of his elder colleague, too. The performance captures the passionate lyricism of the opening movement and the rhythmic gruffness of the finale. Sitting centre-stage is an ardently phrased slow movement.

I have in my collection another performance of the Concerto Kogan recorded the previous year in the Kingsway Hall, London, which emerged some years ago from the EMI vaults and was released by the Testament label. The orchestra is the LSO under Basil Cameron. Whilst the sound quality of the EMI version has more bloom, the orchestra sounds recessed and the violinist slightly in your face. Forgotten Record’s have transferred their recording from Melodiya and Le Chant du Monde LPs. The violinist is better balanced with the orchestra and, in addition, I find Kondrashin’s conducting more involved than Cameron’s.

The Khachaturian Concerto was set down four years earlier in 1952, and the conductor, Samuel Samossoud, is a completely new name to me. There are several versions of the Concerto with Kogan as soloist doing the rounds. A wonderful performance from 1958 with Monteux and the Boston Symphony Orchestra is the finest, in my view. In addition there’s a performance from Prague in 1959, under the direction of the composer himself, and a version taped in Moscow in 1964 with Kondrashin, which can be found on the Brilliant label. The recording under review, though, is every bit as fine. There’s plenty of optimism throughout. The outer movements are suffused with exotic Armenian flavour and given sufficient energy and drive. The slow movement is eloquently forged, with Kogan’s tone warm and ravishing.

The recording of Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite from 1953 is a dimly lit affair. However, this performance features Kogan in the second movement Nocturne. Needless to say, his radiant tone emerges with sufficient profile.

Stephen Greenbank

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