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Leonid Kogan plays Russian Music = Violin Concertos by KHACHATURIAN, KHRENNIKOV, PROKOFIEV, WEINBERG, DENISOV – Leonid Kogan, violin/ Pierre Monte / Krill Kondrashin / Pavel Kogan / Yevgeny Svetlana /Boston Symph. Orch. – Praga Digitals

Leonid Kogan plays Russian Music = KHACHATURIAN: Violin Concerto in d minor; Rhapsody-Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; KHRENNIKOV: Violin Concerto No. 2 in C Major, Op. 23; PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 2 in g minor, Op. 63; WEINBERG: Violin Concerto in g minor, Op. 67; DENISOV: Partita for Violin and Chamber Orchestra after J.S. Bach – Leonid Kogan, violin/ Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Pierre Monteux (Khachaturian)/ USSR State Symphony Orchestra/ Kyrill Kondrashin (Rhapsody, Prokofiev)/ State Academic Symphony/ Yevgeny Svetlano (Khrennikov)/ Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/ Kyrill Kondrashin (Weinberg)/ Instrumental Ensmble/ Pavel Kogan (Denisov) – Praga Digitals PRD 250 373 (2 CDs) 73:40; 79:56 (7/14/17) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] *****:

Leonid Kogan displays his incisive, often blazing talent in Russian concertos that embrace a spectrum of musical styles.

Leonid Kogan (1924-1982) embodied the Russian counterpart to his self-proclaimed idol, Jascha Heifetz. Aristocratic in mien and temperament, Kogan studied not with Leopold Auer but with his most esteemed pupil, Abram Yampolsky, with whom he perfected a classical technique that tolerated no imprecision or false rhetoric. Several composers created works for Kogan’s especial talent, of which two—the Khachaturan Concerto-Rhapsody and the Khrennikov Concerto in C – find their way into this assemblage of performances, 1958-1981.

Even those who admire the various performances by dedicatee David Oistrakh of the 1940 Khachaturian Violin Concerto concede that Kogan’s debut with the Boston Symphony under veteran conductor Pierre Monteux (12 January 1958) presents the work in possibly its best light: fleet, astonishingly propelled, razor-sharp, and intricately dazzling.  Less well known but equally impressive on its own terms, the Concerto-Rhapsody in b-flat minor (1962), dedicated to Kogan  deserves more hearing, if simply for the pliancy of the writing that lies outside conventional, Classical forms.  Kogan and Kondrashin premiered the work 3 October 1962 in Moscow. Here, from London, the touring USSR State Symphony and Kondrashin perform the piece (11 November 1964) from a London studio, although the occasional coughs and rustling sounds belie the sterility of the studio.  Strings, brass, flute, and harp each contribute to a frothy, rich orchestral tissue into which Kogan invests folk and gypsy elements, which later break out into robust conversations with the battery section. The Khachaturian gift for soft lyricism makes itself felt, though the music builds to a whirlwind climax of lively, shattering resonance.

The reputation of Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2008) always suffers the slings and arrows of his having served as Secretary of the Union of Composers (1948-1991), a puppet of the Soviet propaganda machine.   The Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 23 (1976) is dedicated to Kogan, who performs this often vivacious piece in live concert from Moscow (5 January 1977) with Yevgeny Svetlanov. The music has its share of lyric expressivity, but it likes much more a boldly optimistic aggression, especially when Kogan pits his steel E string against the pungent repartee from the percussion section and brass.  The actual musical content avoids extreme chromaticism and serialism; and so, it abides in a world easily digestible to the “people’s notion” of good music.  The performance does glean some authentic cheers from the Moscow audience.

Of the three concertos on Disc 2, the surprise work may turn out to be the 1981 five-movement  Partita for Violin and Chamber Orchestra after Bach – the d minor solo Partita – performed in Paris with Pavel Kogan and an unnamed ensemble 5 September 1981. Denisov had stated that “Beauty is a principal factor in my work. This means not only beautiful sound, which, naturally, has nothing to do with outward prettiness, but beauty here means beautiful ideas as understood by mathematicians, or by Bach and Webern. The most important element of my music is its lyricism. I find serialist procedures very promising, but in my work I strive for synthesis and use tonality, modality, aleatory and other expressive media.” The re-scoring of the Bach Chaconne remains surprisingly transparent, supple, and – despite some potent moves into atonality and bitonality—accessible within the “antique” and “concertante” style proffered us. We can hear passing references to the Bach E Major Concerto as well as snippets from a Brandenburg Concerto or two.

No less visceral in effect, the four-movement Violin Concerto in g minor, Op. 67 of Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) from a Moscow studio recording with Kondrashin (September 1961) offers us a look into a composer too often “dismissed” as a Shostakovich clone.  Born in Poland, Weinberg emigrated to Russia in perilous circumstances, where he was to live out the rest of his days half-way between deserved fame and unjustified neglect. Weinberg’s musical idiom stylistically mixes traditional and contemporary forms, combining a freely tonal, individual language inspired by Shostakovich with ethnic (Jewish, Polish, Moldovian) influences and a unique sense of form, harmony and color. Kogan gave the premiere of the work—dedicated to him—12 February 1961 with Gennady Rozhdestvensky. The extremely active Allegro molto employs various contrapuntal motives and jarring syncopations. The intimate second movement Allegretto approaches a “Hebrew” melody ethos and (eerie) folk element that we might ascribe to Ernest Bloch or Shostakovich himself. The movement ends on a high-flown cadenza from Kogan that leads, attacca, into the affecting, meditative Adagio. The sheer warmth of Kogan’s playing sets him apart from the cool Heifetz detachment; and the last movement, Allegro risoluto, an optimistic march rife with fanfares and wicked shifts in violin registration, enjoys all the virtues of instrumental prowess, solo and orchestral.

Lastly, the familiar, lovely Concerto in g minor, Op. 63 (1935) by Sergei Prokofiev, made famous by recordings from Heifetz and Koussevitzky, Francescatti and Mitropoulos, has a live performance from Kogan and Kondrashin from Moscow, 1961.  Kogan’s edgy tone, the askew rhythmic impulses, and the extraordinary lyric—even Iberian—genius of the second movement create a ravishing, sensuous canvas that bears frequent repetition.

—Gary Lemco

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