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Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel, Franck / Leonid And Nina Kogan

Release Date: 10/25/2005 
Label:  Orfeo D'or Catalog #: 657051   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenJohannes BrahmsCésar FranckMaurice Ravel
Performer:  Leonid KoganNina Kogan
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Violin Sonata No. 1. Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3. Franck Violin Sonata in A. Ravel Tzigane Leonid Kogan (vn); Nina Kogan (pn) ORFEO 657 051, analog (78:03) Live: Salzburg 8/8/1978

Gottfried Kraus’s notes hit dead center: Leonid Kogan, unlike his older contemporary, David Oistrakh, belongs principally to the Read more history of the violin in Russia or in the 20th century. And since too few of his performances have been retained in the catalogs, general listeners have only inadequate materials upon which to form a judgment of his playing, which differed so markedly from that of his well-loved colleague. And that’s a shame, because while Oistrakh’s warm Romanticism pointed to the past, Kogan’s more incisive modernity and hair-raising Heifetzian technical edge pointed to the present in a way that modern audiences should appreciate all the more (Kraus observes, for example, that Kogan’s vibrato seemed restrained and his use of portamento, almost non-existent—in the latter regard his difference from his model, Heifetz, seems especially clear). Kogan sparkled in works like Paganini’s First Violin Concerto and some of the same composer’s variations, which showcased his brilliant instrumental command. His recording of Vieuxtemps’s Fifth Violin Concerto (with Kondrashin from 1952, issued as an LP on Monitor MCS 2076) compares favorably in bravura excitement to Heifetz’s two, from 1947 and 1951. But supposedly he especially favored two concertos not usually associated with pyrotechnical display: Mozart’s Third and Brahms’s. In the latter, with Kondrashin and the Philharmonia Orchestra from 1959, he warms up slowly to a white incandescence that few in my experience have matched. But he also played the standard repertoire, as his last recital from Salzburg, with his daughter, Nina, shows, with understanding and classical restraint.

Orfeo’s stereo recorded sound presents Kogan’s sound in a light more favorable than will likely be familiar to listeners to his Russian recordings. He performed in his later years almost exclusively with Nina, and her clean-cut playing mirrored his own. Their reading of Beethoven’s First Sonata sounds above all clearly conceived and sharply etched, though muscularity bursts forth in the most explosive moments, from the aggressive thematic statements in the first movement through the darker variation of the second to the exuberant last movement. Kogan had recorded the First Sonata in 1950 and a live performance from later in 1978 with Nina seems to have been available. Kogan’s nearly overwhelming performances of Brahms’s Concerto promise a great deal in the composer’s Third Sonata. He’d recorded it in 1981 in the studio with Nina, but otherwise, except for a live performance with Andrei Mytnik from 1952, this live performance serves as a vibrant and almost singular document of a deep affinity. The strong fiber of his tone enhances his powerful if lean reading, which never lingers or indulges moist sentiment. That’s not to say that the duo’s reading sounds in any way straightforward or unnuanced—it’s just that the two achieve the nuances unselfconsciously and with the sparest of means. Though its slow movement may be autumnal, it belongs to the later part of the season, when the leaves have fallen and the wind has chilled. The third movement unfolds slowly, with more of the weight and plaintiveness that might customarily be expected in the second movement. Kogan seems never to have recorded Franck’s Sonata in the studio, only one other live performance, with Naum Walter from 1967, having been at one time available. Those used to barnstorming readings like those of Oistrakh with Sviatoslav Richter (three versions, all live) or Itzhak Perlman with either Vladimir Ashkenazy from 1968 or Martha Argerich, live, from 1998, 23:4—or even Isaac Stern’s ecstatic performance with Alexander Zakin, may find Kogan’s direct shots at the bull’s-eye somewhat matter-of-fact. But if the arrow’s not flaming, the duo plays the second movement with a stormy strength that should bowl over any opposition. The pastels reemerge in the opening of the Recitativo-Fantasia, though the color saturation changes as the movement progresses. Kogan played Ravel’s Tzigane with real, if overheated, Gypsy fire in 1957 with Zdenêk Chalabala and a Russian orchestra (supposedly, Ravel preferred a slinkier, subtler approach like that of his sometime violinist-partner, Zino Francescatti); this one resembles it not only in its general exoticism but in details as well.

I remember reading a remark by Tully Potter re “if” Oistrakh had been Russia’s premier violinist during such and such years . . . ; I always thought Potter might have been alluding in a veiled way to Kogan. He’s not the only one who questioned, even through innuendo, Oistrakh’s absolute supremacy. In whatever way any listener may judge the bar-room contest (could Paul Morphy have beaten Bobby Fischer, could Sam Snead have beaten Tiger Woods?), it’s clear that Kogan’s titanic conceptions of the masterworks (might his Brahms Concerto, after all, not beat Oistrakh’s?) deserve serious consideration. And the dynamo of his energy and electricity, which he seemed able to kindle in students like Viktoria Mullova, creates a sense of excitement that, though it may be described as modern, really transcends historical categories. His recital with Nina from 1978, in clear but amply reverberant recorded sound (with some audience noise adding atmosphere), serves as a relatively recent—and relatively late—document of the career of one of the greatest of the last century’s violinists, whose art deserves to be lit with a perpetual flame. Urgently recommended.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in D major, Op. 12 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Leonid Kogan (Violin), Nina Kogan (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797-1798; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 08/08/1978 
Venue:  Live  Large Festival House, Salzburg, Austria 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 in D minor, Op. 108 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Leonid Kogan (Violin), Nina Kogan (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886-1888; Austria 
Date of Recording: 08/08/1978 
Venue:  Live  Large Festival House, Salzburg, Austria 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, M 8 by César Franck
Performer:  Leonid Kogan (Violin), Nina Kogan (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; France 
Date of Recording: 08/08/1978 
Venue:  Live  Large Festival House, Salzburg, Austria 
Tzigane for Violin and Orchestra by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Leonid Kogan (Violin), Nina Kogan (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; France 
Date of Recording: 08/08/1978 
Venue:  Live  Large Festival House, Salzburg, Austria 

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