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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin sonata No. 1 in F minor (1938-1946) Op. 80 [27:19]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin sonata in G Op. 134 (1968) [31:40]
Natalia Prishepenko (violin)
Dina Ugorskaja (piano)
rec. 2016, Studio 2, Bavarian Radio, Munich
CAVI-MUSIC 8553425 [59:17]

To couple Prokofiev’s first violin sonata not with his second but with the sole sonata by Shostakovich is more logical than may first appear. In fact, the second Prokofiev violin sonata is the composer’s own transcription of his flute sonata, hence its Opus number of Op. 94a. It is also the earlier work. It was the violinist David Oistrakh who persuaded Prokofiev to transcribe it for violin and then to complete the proper violin sonata, which he had started in 1938 but had found it hard to finish. It was again Oistrakh whom we have to thank for Shostakovich’s sonata, written many years later. The composer intended his second violin concerto as a present for the violinist’s sixtieth birthday but miscalculated and gave it a year early. The sonata followed the following year for the actual sixtieth.

The two works have a good deal in common, and indeed the Shostakovich sounds in some ways like a recomposition of Prokofiev’s sonata in Shostakovich’s own late idiom. Prokofiev said that his own sonata was inspired by Handel, but it sounds nothing like him. Maybe the Handelian influence is responsible for the structure of the work, in four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast. The first movement is a passacaglia over a plodding bass on the piano. Later we hear ghostly scale passages on the violin, which Oistrakh remembered Prokofiev said should sound ‘like the wind in a graveyard.’ The second movement begins with a stomping dance and leads to a splendid Prokofievian melody, but with dark undertones. The third movement is also lyrical while the finale is fast and irregular. Again, those ghostly scale passages return.

Shostakovich’s sonata is in three movements. The opening is very similar to the Prokofiev, with low octaves on the piano. But these make up a twelve note row, though Shostakovich does not follow Schoenberg in abandoning tonality for serial techniques. The second movement, although marked Allegretto, is one of Shostakovich’s forceful and demonic scherzos. The long finale is a passacaglia, shades of Prokofiev again, with sixteen variations and then cadenzas for each instrument. The music fades away with reminiscences of the first movement.

The two players here are both Russian though later based in Germany. Natalia Prishepenko is probably best known for having been leader of the Artemis Quartet for a number of years, before leaving in 2012. She plays with a rich and refulgent tone, assisted by her splendid Guarneri violin, and projects both works forcefully. Her partner here is Dina Ugorskaja, daughter of the pianist Anatol Ugorski. She had a successful solo career, and her recordings included Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier and the late Beethoven sonatas. Sadly, she died early of cancer. This must be one of her last recordings. She has no difficulty with a part which is sometimes like a concerto but she forms a true partnership with Prishepenko and their interpretations are well thought out and consistent. The recording is excellent.

There are, of course, many recordings of both works, though this is, I believe, the only one with this coupling. I did make some comparisons. In the Prokofiev I also listened to Alina Ibragimova with Steven Osborne, who have the two Prokofiev sonatas and one other work by him. I thought they were more sinister and less forthright than Prishepenko and Ugorskaja, but the work can take different interpretations. For the Shostakovich I also listened to Shlomo Mintz with Victoria Postnikova where honours were more even. So, if the coupling suits, this will do very well.

Stephen Barber

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