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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Violin Sonatas

  • Sonata #1 in F minor, Op. 80
  • Sonata #2 in D Major, Op. 94a
  • Five Melodies, Op. 35bis
Elmar Oliveira, violin
Robert Koenig, piano
Artek AR-0029-2
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The Prokofieff F minor Sonata for violin and piano is at once one of the composer's deepest and darkest creations. From the intimate agonies of the first movement to the recalcitrant anger of the ensuing Allegro brusco, to the gentle desolation of the third movement Andante, and onto the triumphant defiance and final despair of the finale, the work is emotionally draining in a great performance, even in a merely competent performance. The Kremer/Argerich recording on DG has been my favorite over the years, but David Oistrakh made several accounts with different pianists that were also extremely effective.

This new entry by Elmar Oliveira, his second recording of the work, presents a quite different approach to the music than what listeners are generally familiar with. Where most violinists play with a more gossamer mindset in the opening movement, favoring a generally subdued character to the work's dark qualities here, Oliveira is harsher, more aggressive, but to good effect. In fact, throughout the work he tends to eschew reining in his sonorities, even where it would seem utterly necessary, such as in the dreamy anguish of the third movement. He turns what is a generally introverted, often despondent work into a more defiant, blunt composition that, in the end, still conveys the piece's abject tragedy and suffering. In other words, most violinists express the work's profuse pain in moans of agony, where Oliveira screams and wails, often breaking away for moments of defiant triumph. His approach works nicely, even if his accompanist is a tad reticent at times in the bass register and Artek's sound a little too up front.

In the other Sonata, a transcription of the composer's Op. 94 Flute Sonata, Oliveira takes much the same aggressive approach, but perhaps with even better results. The Scherzo second movement is played with all the bouncy energy and playful mischief one could want. This is one of the sassiest accounts of this movement I've ever heard – it brims at every moment with delicious abandon. The ensuing Andante may exude less exoticism in favor of an almost bluesy jazziness in the middle section, but the playing is effective still. The finale brims with energy and color, to cap off one of finest performances of this genial work available.

The Five Melodies are a nice bonus here, Oliveira and Koenig delivering them with a fine sense for their generally ethereal character. Artek's sound in all works is close and clear, but perhaps too much of a good thing. Overall, this disc must be given a strong recommendation.

Copyright © 2006, Robert Cummings