Poems and Rhapsodies
Solomiya Ivakhiv (violin)
Sophie Shao (cello)
National Symphony of Ukraine/Volodymyr Sirenko
rec. July 2019, Grand Concert Studio of Ukrainian Radio Company, Kyiv, Ukraine
Reviewed as download from press preview
CENTAUR CRC3799 [78:37]
At the time of writing this review, the world at large is condemning Russia’s unacceptable and abominable attack and oppression against independent and democratic neighbour country Ukraine. Many countries, many organisations and many individuals are supporting Ukraine in different ways. My minimal contribution is to highlight the rich cultural life of this country and urge readers to lend an ear to the music of two prominent Ukrainian composers and at the same time experience the music making of the leading symphony orchestra of Ukraine under its chief conductor since 1999 Volodymyr Sirenko, and Ukrainian born violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv, today resident of the US. Ms Ivakhiv plays the Matsuda violin, previously owned by the famous Joseph Silverstein, among other things concertmaster of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 22 years. In August 2021 Ms Ivakhiv was named Honored Artist of Ukraine, Ukraine's highest cultural award bestowed by the
Ukrainian President. Volodymyr Sirenko is a People’s Artist of Ukraine and laureate
of the Taras Shevchenko National Prize, Ukraine’s most prestigious award. He is Professor of opera and symphonic conducting at the National Music Academy of Ukraine and has recorded more than 50 CDs.
The present disc presents six works for violin and orchestra from three centuries and four countries, so the span is wide both timewise and geographically. At the same time there is concordance when it comes to styles and moods. Basically all the works are rooted in a late romantic idiom, Chausson’s Poème drawing towards Impressionism, in the Ukrainian works, in particular Skoryk’s Carpathian Rhapsody, folk music influences. Most of the music is soft, inward and slow and works well as background to personal meditations in a world of conflict and threat. This doesn’t exclude virtuoso elements for the violin soloist, who of course is very much in the focus.
Camille Saint-Saëns was a prolific composer throughout his life and he wrote several works for violin: three concertos and the virtuoso Havanaise and Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. The piece included here is a rather late work, La muse et le poète for violin, cello and orchestra, from 1910. It was originally a piano trio, and the chamber music quality is very obvious here too: more of tranquil konversation than dramatic arguing. The title was not Saint-Saëns’ own, it was his publisher’s, much to the composer’s dismay. Thus there is little need to search for a programme here; just relax and enjoy the conversation between the violin and the cello, the latter played with beautiful warm tone and eloquent phrasing by Sophie Shao, who also is an experienced chamber musician.
Ernest Chausson’s life was cut short in a bicycle accident in 1899 when he was just 44 and just had begun to be established as composer. His best known work is no doubt Poème from 1896 and a much recorded work. As opposed to the Saint-Saëns work mentioned above Chausson’s at first found inspiration in a novella by Turgenev, Le Chant de l’amour triomphant, which was his initial title for the composition, but later abandoned it for Poème symphonique and in the end simply Poème. Structured as a continuous three-movement concerto it is certainly worthy to stand beside the greatest 19th century concertos, and the soloist has great opportunities to display her/his technical brilliance. It happened to be one of my first LPs with violin music back in the early 1960s – after the Beethoven, Bruch and Mendelssohn concertos – and it is still a work I return to with great pleasure. The present recording doesn’t outdo my old one with Riccardo Odnoposoff – today a sadly forgotten artist – but it is a worthy companion, and the sound quality is naturally superior.
The other well-known work on this disc is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Written in 1914, Vaughan Williams, who served in the army during WW1, returned to it after the war and reworked it before it was published in 1921. Again there is literary inspiration: a poem by George Meredith, who was fascinated not only by the singing of the skylark but also its flight. Both are graphically expressed in the solo violin, which soars high above the orchestra, striving to reach Heaven. Ms Ivakhiv is a good advocate for this work, which tends to divide opinions by listeners. Peter Warlock’s often quoted "it is all just a little too much like a cow looking over a gate" can with some justification be applied also to this composition, and I have to admit that it took me some time to come to terms with The Lark Ascending. “Beautiful but lacking in action”, was my verdict then. Today I can admire it for what it is: a pastoral image of an English landscape with the lark hovering over green pastures, preferably without a cow within eyesight. In this collection it fits in with the concept admirably.
Anatol Kos-Anatolsky may be unknown to a majority of non-Ukrainian music lovers, but he was an important teacher at the Lviv Conservatory for more than thirty years and an assidious composer in most genres – his oeuvre includes two violin concertos. His Poem for violin and orchestra was written in 1962, but the score was lost. Fortunately Bohdan Kryvopust was able to reconstruct it from a recording. The long introduction is a slow and warm, melancholy, soft and restrained. Then follows a fast section with more obvious Slavonic touch – emanating from Carpathian folk elements. A very attractive piece.
The youngest composer in this collection is American Kenneth Fuchs, who has a comprehensive production behind him. His American Rhapsody from 2008 opens with dark, doom-laden brass sonorities, and it is the brass that dominates much of the piece, forming a well-contrasted background to the violin soloist. Like Vaughan Williams’ lark, Fuchs also seems inspired by birds, but not specific species.
And so we close this exposé of violin and orchestra pieces with Ukrainian Myroslav Skoryk, who passed away less than two years ago. Born in 1938 in Lviv, which was then part of Poland, he got an early interest in music through his parents and an aunt, who was a celebrated opera soprano. He studied at the conservatory in Lviv and later also in Moscow. He was a leading musical personality in Ukraine for several decades, both as teacher and composer. His list of works is comprehensive and includes ten violin concertos, the last completed as recently as 2019, the year before his death. Carpathian Rhapsody from 2004 was originally written for violin and piano, but the version with orchestra has a timbre that makes it glow in colours that the piano cannot embrace. The Slavonic influence is very distinct from the very beginning: slow but surging, followed by a faster rhythmic dance section that gradually becomes more and more uptempo and syncopated – really swinging. A violin cadenza and a soft interlude bridge over to a fast dynamic coda. A life-enhancing and stimulating piece with more than a drop of melancholy.
I wasn’t familiar with Myroslav Skoryk before, but several of my colleagues at Musicweb-international have written highly appreciative reviews of his works and I will certainly search out some other recordings of his music.
The playing of the orchestra is first class and Solomiya Ivakhiv is an excellent soloist, technically impeccable and eloquent. The whole programme is attractive and particularly the last three items are valuable additions to the repertoire.
Previous review: David McDade
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921)
1. La Muse et le poète, Op. 132* [17:24]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855 – 1899)
2. Poème symphonique, Op. 25 [16:43]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958)
3. The Lark Ascending [16:37]
Anatol KOS-ANATOLSKY (1909 – 1983)
4. Poem for Violin and Orchestra in D Minor [9:22]
Kenneth FUCHS (b. 1956)
5. American Rhapsody (Romance for Violin and Orchestra) [11:47]
Myroslav SKORYK (1938 – 2020)
6. Carpathian Rhapsody [6:40]