Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2.
Jonathan Crow (vn); Paul Stewart (pn)
ATMA 2535 (65:28)
Jonathan Crow, concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Canadian pianist Paul Stewart recorded their program of Prokofiev’s works for violin and piano in April 2008. Crow produces a reedy but highly flexible and expressive tone from his violin in the First Sonata’s first movement, capturing the work’s haunted atmosphere, even before the winds begin to blow
between the gravestones. In the
, Crow and Stewart seem most at home in the most brutal passages, at the same time falling only a bit short of David Oistrakh’s soaring nobility in the second theme. They bestow upon the theme of the third movement a beautiful radiance, to which Crow’s tone in the upper registers (not to mention its richness in the lower ones) contributes in no small way. But they also give an appropriately ashen account of the ghostly noodlings here and there throughout the movement. They begin the finale with a burst of irresistible gusto—and the weight of a juggernaut; but they shift gears effectively before the end’s return to the graveyard effects of the first movement.
I’ve mentioned that while Nathan Milstein played the D-Major work (Sonata No. 2) as a violin sonata, Oistrakh’s performances seemed to suggest its origins as a flute sonata. Crow’s playing in the first movement sounds idiomatically violin-like, but he also preserves the work’s Classical serenity, although interrupted by passing storms—and he bites sharply into the mordant staccatos. If the second movement doesn’t sound quite quicksilver in the duo’s reading, it still speeds along on waxed runners; and Crow and Stewart combine mystery with piquancy in its middle section. I’ve mentioned in the past the way in which many younger violinists play with a sort of equalized emotional tension; but Crow never sounds as though both his highs and lows have been clipped—and he certainly doesn’t in this movement. In the third, Stewart displays an especially keen sensitivity to the piano part’s multifarious timbres and contrasting shades of light and dark. If flute and violin sensibilities remain through the first three movements, the violin dominates the finale almost in the manner in which Milstein makes it do; and listeners should experience an adrenaline high in the movement’s rushing cascades of double stops.
Joseph Szigeti and Carlo Bussotti created a sound universe in the
, and I always preferred his way with the piece to that of Prokofiev’s friend and chess partner David Oistrakh. But Szigeti had already begun to suffer from the physical debilities that would mar his performances, no matter how splendidly conceived. So he couldn’t achieve the sharpness of focus and the swirling effect of the second melody’s central section as effectively as Crow does. And Stewart’s bright tone in the third
, so vividly captured by the engineers, creates a
that the older recording could barely suggest. Nevertheless, Szigeti made the fourth
sound more tantalizingly
, and the fifth more achingly nostalgic.
ATMA’s engineers have captured the duo close-up, but manage to surround them with enough reverberation to reinforce the works’ emotional resonances. For all those who admire the composer’s works for violin and piano, Crow and Stewart have provided so many fresh insights in almost every movement yielding an effect that’s almost tantamount to restoration. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
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