PROKOFIEV Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2.2 Sonata in D for Solo Violin. Sonata in C for Two Violins1 • Mikhail Tsinman (vn); 1Igor Tsinman (vn); 2Nika Lundstrem (pn) • CARO MITIS 42010 (SACD: 79:43)
This is an altogether remarkable release. Russian violinist Mikhail Tsinman, here playing all ofRead more Prokofiev’s violin sonatas with his son Igor and daughter Nika, is a passionate and committed interpreter almost in the “old” Russian school. Nothing escapes Tsinman’s attention in terms of detail, phrasing, or feeling—the music seemingly pours from his fingers like lava from a volcano (his style also puts me in mind of Joseph Szigeti at his best)—yet his tone is consistently bright, tight, and beautiful, rather like a more glittering counterpart to Oistrakh’s dark majesty. The liner notes, largely an interview with Tsinman, explore much of his thought on Prokofiev as a composer and these works in particular. They too are fascinating, showing how he has related much of this music to both internal and external motivations: his return to the Soviet Union, the composition of the ballet The Prodigal Son, and his worldview of auto-training and self-education, allied to a belief that evil was an aberration of human free will, which led him during his American years to becoming a Christian Scientist. Tsinman is particularly interested in the fact that, although Christian Science recommends that one does not dwell on the topic of evil, Prokofiev kept returning to this problem in his diaries as it is “one of the most important problems of the Russian mind.” Thus one can sense a tenuous but possible relationship between his Christian Science beliefs, his obsession with the origins of evil, the plot of The Prodigal Son in which a good man turns evil but later repents, and the dark qualities of the Violin Sonata No. 1. It makes for thoughtful reading, although to my mind the inner struggles of the composer probably influenced the character of this music as much if not more than external pressures.
I was stunned to realize that I owned a recording of both violin-piano sonatas by David Oistrakh—stunned because the music didn’t make anywhere near the impact on me in Oistrakh’s performances as it does in Tsinman’s. Comparing the two, I found that for whatever reason, Oistrakh’s emotional commitment seemed to ride on the surface, but perhaps this had something to do with his pianist, Lev Oborin. I was never particularly happy with Oborin’s playing, even back in the 1960s when I went out of my way to purchase Oistrakh’s performance of the Beethoven violin sonatas. Oborin was an emotionally uninteresting and uninvolved player; I never could understand why Oistrakh liked him as an accompanist, because he contributed nothing more than a routine background.
Nika Lundstrem’s pianism has an appropriately dark, somber cast in the Sonata No. 1 and easily combines the required counterpoint with lyricism in Sonata No. 2. Her playing is also consistently dramatic, bringing out qualities in the music that I’m not sure Lev Oborin knew existed. As for Tsinman, he is consistently excellent. Even the somber, almost violent passages of the First Sonata are played with his bright-but-golden tone, and in the sunnier Sonata for Solo Violin (almost difficult to believe that Bach’s works in this genre were a model for this happy work!) he is really in his element. In a piece with an in-between sort of mood, like the Sonata for Two Violins, his playing is more angular, with sharper contours, yet retains its burnished tone, and his son Igor sounds exceptionally fine at matching both his tone and musical concept. Interestingly, Tsinman sequences these works in terms of contrasting moods rather than chronologically, the sunny solo sonata (1947) and the reflective, highly lyrical Violin Sonata No. 2 (1942-43), originally written for flute but transcribed by the composer for the violin at the request of Oistrakh, act as bookends for the Sonata No. 1 and the duo-sonata. It’s a fascinating sequence, taking the listener from a lyrical, songful opening work to a similarly lyrical if more reflective close with the stronger emotions of the 1930s in between.
Without question, this is one helluva disc, impressive from start to finish. I felt totally immersed in Prokofiev’s vision while listening to it, and to judge from the many works of his that I know and love, these pieces are—with the possible exception of the lightweight Second Sonata—major pieces from his output.
Sonata for Violin solo in D major, Op. 115by Sergei Prokofiev Performer:
Mikhael Tsinman (Violin)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1947; USSR Venue: 5th Studio of The Russian Television and Length: 12 Minutes 16 Secs.
Sonata for 2 Violins in C major, Op. 56by Sergei Prokofiev Performer:
Mikhael Tsinman (Violin),
Igor Tsinman (Violin)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1932; Paris, France Venue: 5th Studio of The Russian Television and Length: 14 Minutes 14 Secs.
Sonatinas (2) for Piano, Op. 54: no 2 in G majorby Sergei Prokofiev Performer:
Mikhael Tsinman (Violin),
Nika Lundstrem (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1931-1932; Paris, France Venue: 5th Studio of The Russian Television and Length: 24 Minutes 18 Secs.
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