Notes and Editorial Reviews
SOVIET RUSSIAN VIOLA MUSIC
Igor Fedotov (va); Leonid Vechkhayzer
, Gary Hammond
NAXOS 8.572247 (74:37)
, op 46.
, op 62/1.
, op 44
The liner notes provide a bit of background for the composers featured on this release, but nothing about the viola school that prompted their composition. So let’s take a moment, and fill in the gap.
Although violas have certainly been part of the Russian musical landscape for some time, their greatest proselytizer has been Vadim Borisovsky (1900–72). He began his studies at the Moscow Conservatory as a violinist, but soon changed over to the viola. He gave his first solo performance in 1922, and learned to play the viola d’amore in 1926. The following year he started a series of well-attended concerts of both original and transcribed compositions—ultimately arranging more than 250 on his own, everything from Caix d’Hervelois to Bartók. Borisovsky was a fine performer, a political mover, a member of the celebrated Beethoven String Quartet for more than 40 years, and a renowned teacher for roughly 50. In this last capacity he was responsible for influencing more than one generation of violists who became concert performers in their own right, rather than solely members of chamber and orchestral ensembles, and that led in turn to an interest among Soviet composers in the viola as a solo instrument. The first two works on this album, the viola sonatas of Kryukov and Vasilenko, were dedicated to Borisovsky.
In contrast to some works that pursue Scriabin’s widely ranging harmonic schemes, the conservative 1933 Sonata by Vladimir Kryukov (1902–60) aims solely at light coloration. Rachmaninoff is present, too; the second theme could have been penned by the émigré. Miaskovsky, Kryukov’s teacher, is nowhere in sight, much less Shostakovich, or anybody who chose to marry revolutionary musical concepts to revolutionary politics. Kryukov wears the 19th-century cut of his compositional clothes naturally, however, and provides a haunting work of captivating themes, good contrast, and effective development.
This isn’t the first recording of the Viola Sonata by Sergei Vasilenko (1872–1956). There may have been still older ones, but the earliest I’ve got is a Melodiya release of the 1970s, no longer available, that features violist Georgy Bezrukov and pianist Anatoly Spivak. (It’s a fine performance, one of many by this chamber-music team. Someone should rerelease them.) The work itself is still more conservative than Kryukov, though with greater structural scope and stage presence. Like Glazunov’s Violin Concerto, the primary influences would appear to be French, including Vieutemps and Saint-Saëns. If the piano part weren’t so idiomatic some virtuosic violist would probably have long since converted the work over for viola and orchestra.
The Viola Sonata of Grigori Frid (b. 1915) moves forward stylistically. The liner notes mention that Frid’s manner became “more tragic and complex” in the 1960s, after years of influence by Shostakovich, but this work of 1971 is still heavily indebted to the older composer: his modalism, his interest in counterpoint, and some of his thematic fingerprints as well. Not that the Viola Sonata is any the worse for it, or for the presence of those associated with his school. The work moves from a melancholy march whose piercingly lyrical tone recalls Weinberg, to a fiercely martial toccata, to a somber threnody.
The musical ability of young Yulian Krein (1913–96) was such that it impressed the authorities at a time when Soviet politics and the arts were still relatively open and hotly debated. He benefited by being sent in 1926 to study at the Paris École Normale under Paul Dukas, where Krein learned not only musical skills but pedagogical ones the Soviet authorities desired at home. His 1973 Sonata demonstrates many years later that he’d kept the faith. It’s a solidly late French Romantic composition with extended tonality, at its best in the slow, spectral lullaby of its central movement.
The album concludes with a viola sonata by Valerian Bogdanov-Berezovsky (1903–71), a close friend during their conservatory years of Shostakovich. Composed in 1956, it strikes me as the only moderately perfunctory piece on the CD—not for its tentative stabbings at “bad boy” Shostakovich in the early variations that form the second movement, but rather for its general lack of inventiveness throughout. It offers a fine technical challenge for a virtuosic violist, however, and Igor Fedotov certainly rises to that. The unaccompanied variation is especially impressive in this regard, though the violist also displays a suavely elegant tone, and a sense of the richly expressive rhetoric that moves each Russo-Soviet work from the page across the platform and into the audience. As much can be said of both accompanists, in music that requires very active participation on their part in making each piece work. This is neither a disc of dusty academic exercises nor of pedantic performance, but of attractive music expertly played with every desire to convince.
I found the sound a bit dry overall, with the viola mechanics sometimes apparent and spotlighted in softer passages, while the piano was slightly recessed in a way that detracted from its tonal quality. However, it’s still more than listenable, and adds full timings and a budget price to its list of virtues. I can only hope that Fedotov finds the time, energy, and support to issue a second volume. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Viola and Piano by Julian Krein
Igor Fedotov (Viola),
Gary Hammond (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
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