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CD Review

The Outcry

Igor Malinovsky, violin
Itamar Golan, piano
Genuin GEN15547 60:34
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This album's subtitle, The Outcry, is rather easy to figure out for those familiar with the two sonatas on the disc. Both works are dark and filled with music of inward frustration and almost certainly of protest as well. The protest would obviously be directed at Soviet oppression, both in the arts and in society in general. It's always something of a mystery to me why oppression proves such a great inspiration to composers, but frankly there are so many examples of it, particularly from the former Soviet Union. Indeed, and here are two, both major compositions in the chamber genre by two iconic composers of the 20th century.

The Prokofiev leads off the disc. Violinist Igor Malinovsky and pianist Itamar Golan capture the tension and eerie atmosphere with a little more muscle than is typical, but their way with the music is quite effective and imaginative. Their first movement brims with dark omen and turbulence, and closes with the wind over the graves music played hauntingly but also threateningly with nervous and potent pizzicatos from the violin. The second movement has drive and power, but subtlety and finesse too, and the third movement, taken a little slower than is customary, has just the right mixture of the dreamy and the dark. Malinovsky and Golan deliver a superb finale: this may be the best account on record, as the main theme races breathlessly ahead, sounding harried and desperate as if escaping from something or someone. It's a wild ride until we reach the utterly heartrending and tragic closing pages, where Malinovsky and Golan make you feel the sense of surrender and despair.

It's hard for even me to believe, but I have reviewed six other versions of this Prokofiev sonata here: Bielov and Tchetuev (Naxos 8.555904), Gluzman and Yoffe (BIS 2032), Gil Shaham and Orli Shaham (Canary Classics CC02), Oliveira and Koenig/Artek (Artek AR-0029-2), Jansen and Golan (yes, Itamar again - Decca 4783546) and Crow and Stewart (Atma Classique ACD2-2535). I also have a fondness for the Kremer/Argerich version on DG, which along with the Jansen/Golan, previously shared top honors in this work. I would now rank this new excellent version by Malinovsky and Golan in the same company. All three are superb and standout amid the formidable competition.

As for the Shostakovich, the pair are once again right on target. They also seem to play the music with a more muscular sense than is usual, though I think the Oistrakh/Richter recording on Melodiya also has plenty of sinew and heft. That live performance, from 1969, was not only the sonata's premiere recording but the first time the work was played in public, in effect the premiere, since Oistrakh and Richter had only given a private performance a little earlier. That LP, issued around 1970, introduced me to this Shostakovich piece, along with its discmate, the Quartet #13. I remember wondering at the time if these brand-spanking new works would come to be widely regarded one day as masterpieces. That was nearly a half century ago, but I guess it's safe to say they are. The Shostakovich Sonata, is not as lyrical or bleak as Prokofiev's, but is very dark, containing much of Shostakovich's bitter black humor and irony.

Malinovsky and Golan capture the threatening character of the work's opening theme in an almost understated manner in their phrasing and well-judged dynamics. They present the dark humor in the latter half of the first movement with bite in their attacks and with a curt, subtle manner in the softer music. Their second movement is bold and almost over-the-top in their potent fortes as they slash away in this thrilling, breathless account. The Largo brims with tension, never sounding ponderous or dull, as the pair bring out both the ghostly character of the music and its roiling undercurrents. This is a performance that can rank with the classic Oistrakh/Richter. The sound reproduction on the disc is powerful and clear. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings