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Roslavets: Violin Sonatas 1, 4 & 6, Etc / Soroka, Greene

Release Date: 08/29/2006 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557903   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Solomia SorokaArthur Greene
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ROSLAVETS Violin Sonatas: No. 1, No. 4, No. 6. 3 Dances Solomia Soroka (vn); Arthur Greene (pn) NAXOS 8.557903 (69:37)

I think the key to understanding the initial fall from grace of many Soviet composers who came of artistic age during the 1920s is to keep in mind that Stalin represented a social and political counter-revolution. Lenin desired the spread of revolution through the arts, thinking it admirable propaganda for the cause. Whether or not he himself appreciated the Read more results (he frequently didn’t), his appointees often did, and encouraged the results. By contrast, Stalin gathered in all power to himself, including artistic decision-making, and his aesthetic views were notoriously immature and parochial. If we keep this in mind, the downfall of composers affiliated with the radical Association for Contemporary Music and the rise of those in the conservatively oriented Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians seem a foregone conclusion. (This still wasn’t enough control for Stalin, who ultimately abolished RAPM as well and created his own Union of Composers.)

Shostakovich at least had the buttress of prominent recognition for his talent when the hammer came down. True, this also meant his condemnation and recantation had to be public, but very few members of the political and artistic elite seemed willing or daring enough to consign the composer permanently to musical limbo. Shostakovich kept his head low when it came to debating musical principles in print or in public; a very wise move, as it turned out, when his music could speak for him. Roslavets (1880–1944), by contrast, was loud in his defense of modernism, and used the various prominent posts he occupied during the early and mid 1920s to press his case. His fall at the hands of his foes in RAPM (for “formalism” and “decadence”) wasn’t cushioned by any consensus over his abilities. When he vanished, few people either knew or cared. Declared an “enemy of the people” in 1929, Roslavets was sent on internal exile to Tashkent, and relegated for the rest of his life to a succession of minor positions on his return, such as training military bandleaders. Simplifying his compositional style was deemed insufficient for full rehabilitation, but then, he was far from the only creative artist to be casually tossed aside during the Stalinist era. At least he lived.

Roslavets’s stylistic crime was all the more severe, in the eyes of his contemporaries, in that it took root during the final days of the Russian Empire. The Violin Sonata No. 1 dates from 1913, the year after the composer’s graduation (with a silver medal) from the Moscow Conservatory. Along with songs he was writing at the time, it uses what the composer called his “synthetic chord” technique: a non-diatonic tonal system whose chords contained all the rhythmic and thematic material he would use. Whatever the theory, the results at the time strongly resembled late Scriabin, with an emphasis on unstable harmonies, irregular rhythms, and soaring melodic lines. Nikolai Miaskovsky praised the work in print, but claimed it would have a hard time finding advocates due to its extreme difficulty.

By 1915, Roslavets had further developed his system to embrace 12-tone equality. This wasn’t Schoenberg’s system, which Roslavets didn’t hear until 1923, but one that permitted the immediate reuse of tones as long as successive motivic statements employed all 12. Naxos’s liner notes don’t provide a date for the Violin Sonata No. 4, and of my two sources, one lists 1920 for its completion, while the other states 1924. Regardless, the work sounds very like a more extreme re-make of the First Sonata. Tonality is negligible, though the piece remains unfailingly consonant. There is more reliance upon repeated intervals as a binding element, often at a very subtle level. The harmonic structure is so dense and varied that the composer employed special pedal markings to clarify it.

The Three Dances date from 1923, though they weren’t published until 1925. The fact that one of the dances, “Nocturne,” isn’t a dance at all doesn’t really matter, since the “Waltz” and “Mazurka” are only nominally dances, beginning and referring for the most part abstractly to rhythms associated with each piece. There’s more of the ecstatic, soaring line found in the earlier works, and a clear preference for the extremes of emotional anguish and exaltation.

Unlike everything else on this album, the Violin Sonata No. 6 remained unpublished prior to its 1996 discovery in manuscript. (The Second, Third, and Fifth Violin Sonatas were also never published. The latter two have vanished, but the Second Sonata has recently been reconstructed from available source materials.) The liner notes state that the date written on it, 1940, is not in the composer’s hand, though the piece clearly is in Roslavets’s late, drastically simplified manner. All that remains of his earlier style are chromatic runs, the brief and occasional use of extended tonality (typically as a passing element within clustered figurations), and the violin’s broadly arching line that traces an ascending or descending expressive course. Otherwise, we might be listening to a late 19th-century Russian violin sonata. Notwithstanding this, it is an inspired work, hardly the kind of mind-numbing compositional exercise that often appeared in those years from Soviet composers eager to please Stalin’s crude tastes without making their dumbing down too obvious.

I have not heard Solomia Soroka’s previous recording of Bolcom’s chamber music (Naxos 8.559150). She’s very good here, though I find her tone occasionally hard and her runs at times a bit labored—not surprising in music of this kind, which piles difficulty on top of difficulty. Soroka has clearly made an effort to meet the temperamental as well as technical requirements of these pieces, but I would also have preferred more consistently fiery lyricism than the brief explosion of intensity she delivers on demand. Aside from this, she and Greene make a very effective team.

Sound quality is good, with natural balance between the instruments. Despite my reservations, this is a fascinating disc, and not likely to be bettered anytime soon. Recommended for its glimpse of a fascinating musical talent that was sidelined by politics.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano no 6 by Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Solomia Soroka (Violin), Arthur Greene (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; Russia 
Venue:  Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Gos 
Length: 28 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Notes: Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Goshen, IN (12/09/2005 - 12/12/2005) 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 4 by Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Arthur Greene (Piano), Solomia Soroka (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 1924; Russia 
Venue:  Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Gos 
Length: 15 Minutes 33 Secs. 
Notes: Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Goshen, IN (12/09/2005 - 12/12/2005) 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 by Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Arthur Greene (Piano), Solomia Soroka (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; Russia 
Venue:  Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Gos 
Length: 16 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Notes: Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Goshen, IN (12/09/2005 - 12/12/2005) 
Danses (3) for Violin and Piano by Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Arthur Greene (Piano), Solomia Soroka (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923; USSR 
Venue:  Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Gos 
Length: 9 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Notes: Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Goshen, IN (12/09/2005 - 12/12/2005) 

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