Notes and Editorial Reviews
Three Pieces for Violin and Piano. Violin/Piano Sonata No. 2. Violin/Piano Sonatina No. 3. Violin/Piano Sonatina No. 2. Violin/Piano Sonata No. 1
David Frühwirth (vn); Milana Chernyavska (pn)
DELTA 90075 (60:16)
Nikolai Rakov (1908-1990) was a Glière pupil at the Moscow Conservatory, where he later became his assistant. In 1943 he was offered, and accepted, the post of professor of orchestration. He was also regarded as a fine concert violinist, as numerous compositions intended for his
own use can attest. In contrast to the Conservatory’s director, Vissarion Shebalin, Rakov kept his head down and his nose clean, endorsing the Party line as required by the Union of Soviet Composers. His life was relatively untroubled by political upheavals as a result, leaving him plenty of time to compose and write a series of well-regarded books on orchestration.
The music Rakov wrote was conservative, but unlike that of Glière, rarely inclined to fall back on a series of clichéd gestures. It is well constructed, thematically appealing, and demonstrates a welcome attention to detail. Its expressive range is broad and notable for a vein of romantic lyricism in numerous slow movements. He was also capable of adding an element of lightly etched irony in his shorter works, a quality not typically associated with Soviet composers, who preferred their irony dipped in enough acid to eat through metal. His best-known work is his Violin Concerto No. 1, which received numerous recordings in the second half of the 20th century. (I have three, beginning with the best: Oistrakh/Eliasberg, in 1947. That, and Gavrilov/Rother appear to be out of print, so your best, easily available choice is Hardy/Dudarova from 1995, currently on Regis 1310. It’s competent, but misses the depth and passion that Oistrakh discovers in the piece.)
The works assembled here include three intimately scaled compositions. Two are sonatinas from the 1960s, while the third, the Three Pieces of 1943, is more formal: an Improvisation, with effective genuflections to the baroque prelude, a charming scherzo that Kreisler might have written, and a plaintive
of considerable beauty. Of the two larger works, the Sonata No. 1 dates from 1951. It’s a big-boned romantic piece, thoroughly convincing in its gestures, and with a tilt to the Eusebius side of the scale even in its breezy and positive finale. By 1974, when Rakov composed his Second Sonata, elements of Debussy, Ravel, and Prokofiev had entered his music. (Yes, quite the radical.) The synthesis is effective, and the piece is as expressively direct and convincing as its predecessor.
David Frühwirth and Milana Chernyavska are new names to me. He’s a young Austrian concert violinist who has been making a name for himself at several festivals. She’s been around a while longer, completing her initial studies under Sahaidachny at the State Tchaikovsky Conservatory in 1990, and named an Artist of Ukraine in 1994. Both are building international reputations, and judging from this release, for good reason. Frühwirth has a lean, sleekly attractive tone. He negotiates Rakov’s moderate figurations without problems, and demonstrates a convincing grasp of Rakov’s phrasing and big-hearted manner. Chernyavska is a full partner in the proceedings, delicate and brutal as required, the pair playing together with familiar ease. I could wish for a bit more bite at times, as in the opening movement of the Sonatina No. 3, where Rakov appears to parody a military march; but it’s a minor flaw in a successful performance.
The liner notes to this release are surprisingly uninformative, and read like a factually challenged piece of Soviet-era hagiography. (“It was then that Rakov wrote his first short compositions and intensively occupied himself with folkloristic traditions. He established himself as one of the few masters who, with awe-inspiring personal integrity, served the cultural life of their country….”)
There’s no competition from the active catalog, sadly. I do wish the new owners of the Melodiya label would reissue Edward Grach’s version of a pair of Rakov’s sonatinas that I only have on LP. But barring that, this is your only source for the music, and fortunately, it’s a good one.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Be the first to review this title