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PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19; Violin Concerto No. 2 in g, Op. 35; Solo Sonata in D Major, Op. 115 – Vadim Gluzman, v./ Estonian Nat. Sym. Orch./ Neeme Jarvi – BIS

Strong collaborations and incisive sound editing give us fine interpretations of Prokofiev’s major violin works.

PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19; Violin Concerto No. 2 in g, Op. 35; Solo Sonata in D Major, Op. 115 – Vadim Gluzman, v./ Estonian Nat. Sym. Orch./ Neeme Jarvi – BIS multichannel SACD-2142, 60:21 (8/12/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Ukrainian-Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman (b. 1973) recorded the present Prokofiev works between May 2014 and July 2015, playing upon an extraordinary instrument, the 1690 Stradivarius once owned by pedagogue Leopold Auer. The quality of instrumental tone has an ardent complement in Gluzman’s natural sympathy for the works he performs here with the support of Neeme Jarvi and his veteran Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.

The D Major Prokofiev Concerto (1917) still vibrates with a sense of the enfant terrible who wishes to astonish the conservative status quo. Although Nathan Milstein – who premiered the work in Moscow in 1923 – called the music “one of the best modern violin concertos,” many of the elite virtuosos declined to perform it, and it was left to the enterprising Joseph Szigeti to make the first recording with Sir Thomas Beecham. The dreamy first movement Andantino opens sognando, musing the violin against the violas and woodwinds. The scoring for the evolving musical narrative – often cantabile – becomes quite delicate, pizzicato in the solo violin and a duet with flute and muted violin solo later on. Th second movement Scherzo: Vivacissimo must have set many teeth on edge, its danse macabre wild with double stops and whirling banshee figures having taken the form of a terse rondo. The bassoon occupies a primary role in the final movement, Moderato – Allegro moderato, which rises to some passion before returning to the dream-scape of the first movement. Gluzman negotiates the various challenges of this idiosyncratic and classical work with refinement and easy elegance, The energetic contribution of Jarvi and his forces certainly ushers this music into a rarified stratosphere.

The Second Concertoof 1935 soon received the ultimate sponsorship, via a recording by none other than Jascha Heifetz and Serge Koussevitzky. Composed for French virtuoso Robert Soetens and premiered in Madrid, the music does bear an Iberian affect, especially in the last movement. Once more, Prokofiev’s lyric gift couples with his penchant for brash virtuoso passages and unconventional rhythmic groupings. Gluzman makes lovely song from the secondary theme of the first movement, aided by oboe and horn. The two major themes of the first movement merge in the recapitulation, with muted horns’ playing against the strings’ pizzicato. The heart of the concerto – the ardent Andante assai – Allegretto – evokes from Gluzman the same heart-rending fervor we know from the classic versions by Heifetz and Oistrakh. A loose theme with variations, the music interweaves melodic colors with clarinet and flute. If the passionate outpouring recalls Romeo and Juliet, it would hardly be a coincidence. The last movement proves a tour de force for Gluzman – and anyone else – with triplets flying in the rhythm while the violin often cascades in a percussive dance with drum and even castanets. Conductor Jarvi has the wild dance well in hand, assisting his gifted soloist Gluzman without a wrinkle in the dervish mix.

The 1947 Solo Sonata was conceived as a unison work – to be played by a violin consort. The point seems to have been pedagogical, but artists like Szigeti and Ricci have long demonstrated that this music can soar on its own. The sweet second movement, Andante dolce, proffers a theme and variations, where even the double-stopped variant must sing. Having Gluzman’s superb Stradivarius all to ourselves makes us wonder if he will approach Paganini with the same poetic efficiency. Sound engineers Matthias Spitzbarth and Marion Schwebel earn high marks for a solidly rewarding image for these strong efforts in Prokofiev.

—Gary Lemco

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