SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Childhood Memories” = Works of PROKOFIEV, SCHUBERT, BARTOK, BLOCH, FALLA, JANACECK & others – Mikhail Tsinman, violin / Nika Lundstrem, piano – Caro Mitis

This may be more a pleasing hodge-podge than a well-designed program, but there is still much to enjoy here.

Published on August 5, 2010

“Childhood Memories” = Works of PROKOFIEV, SCHUBERT, BARTOK, BLOCH, FALLA, JANACECK & others – Mikhail Tsinman, violin / Nika Lundstrem, piano – Caro Mitis

“Childhood Memories” = ALEXANDER DOLZHEKNO: Song of the Brook; PROKOFIEV: Five Melodies, Opus 35 bis; MOZART: Sonata for Piano and Violin in C Major KV 6; SCHUBERT: Introduction and Variations on the Song “Trockne Blumen” from the cycle “Die schöne Müllerin,” Op. 160 (D. 802); BARTÓK: Romanian Folk Dances (BB 68); ERNEST BLOCH: Nigun (Improvisation) from the suite “Baal Shem: Three Pictures of Chassidic Life”; FALLA: Nana from the cycle “Siete Canciones Populares Espannolas”; JANÁČEK: Sonata for Violin and Piano (JW VII/7); ENESCU: Impressions d’Enfance, Opus 28 – Mikhail Tsinman, violin / Nika Lundstrem, piano – Caro Mitis multichannel SACD CM 0022007-2 (2 discs), 50:07; 54:14 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

You could almost say this is a concept album in search of a concept. At the very least, the concept is a pretty loose-fitting garment, taking shape here, hanging a bit loosely there. When you read Mikhail Tsinman’s notes to the recording, you realize that the concept is at best something of a stretch, to compound my sartorial metaphor. In fact, I suggest you listen to the music and forget the words; Tsinman’s a much better violinist than he is a music critic.

As Tsinman readily acknowledges, the only music here written specifically for children is double bassist and composer Alexander Dolzhenko’s bubbly, mildly syncopated Song of the Brook. The violin mostly sings the song while the keyboard is awash in watery sounds. Pleasant enough. On to Prokofiev’s well-known Five Melodies, based on songs the composer had written earlier, and despite Tsinman’s finding enchanted princesses, witches, and knights in the score, the program remains intractably abstract, the music thoroughly appealing.

Mozart’s Sonata KV 6 makes sense, having been written by a child of seven or eight. Charming as it is, it’s one of those works that would be entirely unknown if it hadn’t been written by Mozart. The piano takes the lead, the violin repeating or commenting on its pronouncements. The first movement sounds like a collection of ornaments, but the lively rondo last movement is fun of a kind most eight-year-olds don’t understand.

The reason for the inclusion of Schubert’s Introduction and Variations escapes me; the piece isn’t first-rate Schubert but is still attractive and worth knowing. However, I think it makes more of an effect in its original instrumentation, featuring flute and piano. The shrill voice of the flute injects more mystery and drama into the early going, before the piece settles down to the two jolly final variations that establish the overall complexion of the work. As in the Octet, Schubert distracts the listener with some heavy weather before the sun breaks out and burns the clouds away. Things are definitely duller with violin instead of flute, I think, or maybe it’s just Tsinman and Lundstrem’s performance that is.

If so, this is really the only downer in the program. As familiar as they are (and as little as they seem to have to do with childhood), the Bartók and Janáček are welcome in such expert, understanding performances as we have here. Finally, Enescu and Falla actually do get with the program, as the saying goes, but more than that provide rarely heard, utterly compelling music, especially Enescu. Falla’s lullaby is quietly disarming (usually this composer is noisily disarming), while Enescu’s Impressions explores some of the darker passageways of childhood, capturing childish terror in “Night Storm” and uncomprehending sadness in “Old Beggar.” The impressions are conveyed by a Lautar, a folk violinist introduced in the first movement, who observes and reflects on Enescu’s scenes of childhood. Along the way, there is some canny tone painting (“Bird in a Cage and a Wall Cuckoo Clock” and “Cricket”) that exploits violin sonorities in a way only a virtuoso like Enescu could. This is the composer’s last work for violin, and a remarkable finale it is.

Most of these compositions are available in other recordings—some of them in many recordings—but except for the Schubert, the performances of Tsinman, concertmaster of the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra, and daughter Nika Lundstrem are affecting. As usual with Caro Mitis, the engineering is first-rate. The musicians are right in the room with you, and your room is transformed into a hall with an attractively intimate acoustic.

This may be more a pleasing hodge-podge than a well-designed program, but there is still much to enjoy here.

– Lee Passarella

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