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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Naxos 8.555904

Sonatas for Violin and Piano

  • Sonata for Violin & Piano #1 in F minor, Op. 80
  • Sonata for Violin & Piano #2 in D Major, Op. 94b
  • Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 115
  • Five Melodies for Violin and Piano, Op. 35bis
Andréy Bielov, violin
Igor Tchetuev, piano
Naxos Laureate Series 8.555904
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

This is an extremely impressive effort from the young Ukrainian artists, violinist Andréy Bielov and pianist Igor Tchetuev. They go into director competition here with some truly great artists associated with this repertory, including Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich on DG, David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter on various labels, and Frank Peter Zimmermann and Alexander Lonquich on EMI. I can only say that they acquit themselves quite well and are not clearly outplayed by any of these bigger-name teams.

Each of the two performers on this Naxos disc is a recent competition prize winner: Bielov captured second prize at the Joseph Joachim Competition in 2000; Tchetuev was the first-prize winner in the 1998 Artur Rubinstein Competition. I can say right off that Bielov and Tchetuev clearly outplay Pierre Amoyal and Frederic Chiu on Harmonia Mundi, who turned in fairly strong performances in their own right. There are numerous others, to whom they are clearly preferable as well. What is impressive about them is that they so deftly capture the grimness and subtle beauty of the F minor Sonata, surely one of Prokofieff's deepest works. It is a dark composition, a rare piece from this normally optimistic composer. The work ends in abject despair, after putting the listener through a gauntlet of Mahlerian-like states of depression and desperation – not that it's anything like Mahler.

The first movement is ghostly and haunting; the second filled with acid and mock merriment; the third a sort of dark nocturne that augurs the grayest skies for the morning ahead; and the finale a desperate and ultimately failed attempt to break free of the crushing oppression. Bielov and Tchetuev are convincing throughout, negotiating the considerable technical hurdles with relative ease and interpreting the music with a maturity that talented artists a generation older often lack. Bielov's sul ponticello effects in the first movement are brilliantly realized and pianist Tchetuev seems the perfect partner throughout. The breathless desperation they bring to the finale is powerfully compelling, offering an ending of such utter sadness. If this CD contained only this masterpiece on it, it would still merit my highest recommendations. But happily it has much more of high quality to offer the listener, both in performance and music.

The lightweight D Major Sonata, a transcription of the Op. 94 Flute Sonata, gets an appropriately light and colorful reading and in the end is competitive with the better versions of the work. The Five Melodies, a transcription of Five Songs Without Words for soprano and piano, and the Op. 115 Solo Sonata, originally conceived for unison strings (an instrumentation in which the work is almost never heard) are also given brilliant performances.

I wouldn't want to be without the Kremer/Argerich performances of the Sonatas, but then their disc lacks the Solo Violin Sonata and costs twice as much. Moreover, I'm not sure it is even still available. The sound on this Naxos disc is excellent and the notes informative. I can reiterate, this disc merits my highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2003, Robert Cummings

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