The catalog is crowded with excellent recordings of the Prokofiev violin sonatas. Now we have this new entry from the BIS label featuring violinist Vadim Gluzman and his pianist wife Angela Yoffe. Born in the former Soviet Union and now based in Israel, Gluzman studied at Juilliard with Dorothy DeLay and subsequently developed an international career making regular appearances with many of the world's leading orchestras and giving recitals at major venues with his wife. As for Angela Yoffe, she was born in Latvia and also emigrated to Israel. She was a student of Spanish virtuoso Joaquin Achucarro in Dallas and later became a piano assistant in DeLay's violin studio at Juilliard. Both players make an excellent team as they seem to perform as if their interpretation were a totally natural and unified collaboration, almost as though it were born of one mind.
In the F minor Sonata, surely one of Prokofiev's most profound compositions, they capture the work's darker aspects with a subtle starkness of expression, delivering the wind-over-the-graves character in the first movement with an ominous gentleness, a chilly flow that exudes only the sense of things fading. The repeating three-note motif in the third movement has rarely sounded so regretful and desolate, while the main theme is both arrestingly dreamy and eerily funereal. The faster music in the second and fourth movements slashes away in its vigor, its venom and its muscular tones. The collapse that comes in the finale leading to the return of wind-over-the-graves music is powerful and threatening, bringing on a sense of hopelessness and despair. This is extraordinary music, brilliantly performed, that may not be for the faint-hearted because of its pathetic and bleak character: it's sort of a chamber music parallel to Mahler's Ninth Symphony.
Of course, things are appropriately brighter in the D major Sonata, a work that is really a transcription of the Op. 94 Flute Sonata. Both Gluzman and Yoffe capture the brighter spirit of the music in brilliant performances that feature a deft sense for the colorful and light character of the work. Again, this is a splendid collaboration, infused with such infectious spirit as to almost make you forget the harrowing nature of the F minor Sonata.
The Three Pieces from Romeo and Juliet offer transcriptions of some of that ballet's more famous themes. The opening number, Montagues and Capulets or Dance of the Kinghts (there are literally hundreds of versions of this march on YouTube) is delivered with the appropriate vehemence and power, though the return of the theme at the end contains some peculiar accents. The Dance of the Girls with Lillies is utterly beguiling in its suave exoticism and Masks is deliciously bouncy and spirited.
I've reviewed four other recordings of the two sonatas here at Classical Net, including the excellent Gil Shaham/Orli Shaham collaboration (Canary Classics CC02) and the convincing Andrey Bielov/Igor Tchetuev (Naxos Laureate Series 8.555904). There are also the utterly splendid Kremer/Argerich performances (Deutsche Grammophon 431803-2) to crowd the field even further, and if you want just the F minor Sonata (coupled with the Second Violin Concerto and Sonata for Two Violins) there is the wonderful Janine Jansen/Itamar Golan (Decca 4783546). With such formidable competition it is hard to make a definitive choice, but I can now say that this new SACD of the two sonatas by Gluzman and Yoffe offers performances just as strong in their own way as my previous favorite, Kremer and Argerich. But the excellent sound reproduction by BIS tilts the scales in favor of Gluzman and Yoffe.
Copyright © 2013, Robert Cummings