PROKOKIEV: Violin Concerto No. 2 in g minor; Sonata for 2 Violins in C Major; Solo Violin Sonata in D Major – Viktoria Mullova, v./ Tedi Papavrami, v. /Frankfurt Radio Sym. Orch./ Paavo Jarvi – Onyx

PROKOKIEV: Violin Concerto No. 2 in g minor, Op. 63; Sonata for 2 Violins in C Major, Op. 56; Solo Violin Sonata in D Major, Op. 115 – Viktoria Mullova, v./ Tedi Papavrami, v. /Frankfurt Radio Sym. Orch./ Paavo Jarvi – Onyx 4142, 50:55 (9/11/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Recorded in live concerts 17-18 May 2012 (concerto) and 7 December 2014 (sonatas), Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova (b. 1959) returns to her Slavic roots in music by Prokofiev, permitting her a diverse persona in sonata and concerto genres.  The most immediately interesting work may well be the 1932 Sonata for 2 Violins, which Prokofiev claimed had been inspired by his having heard a sonata in the medium badly played.  The piece had its premier from two members of the Beethoven String Quartet. Mullova’s high, piercing tone soon finds a warm complement in the art of Tedi Papavrami, who weaves her own magic around her in the Andante cantabile.  Their fervent collaboration takes flight in the Allegro, an angular movement in dotted rhythm that likes percussive accents and double stops. Commodo, the third movement applies mutes for its plangent melody, a return to the sweet lyricism that would soon express itself in Romeo and Juliet. The Allegro con brio opens with Mullova’s solo, moving a due into a frenzied rondo – often contrapuntal in the manner of Stravinsky – that maintains a rustic brilliant character.

The 1947 Solo Sonata derives from a commission from the Soviet Union Committee of Arts Affairs, which wanted a piece of easy character that could be played by a unison consort of young players. Ruggiero Ricci gave the debut of this lyrically classical piece in 1959. Mullova invests her patented energy and acerbic wit into the opening Moderato, which evolves in sonata form, rife with double stops.  The second movement exploits Prokofiev’s natural penchant for a theme and five variations. Suave and lyrically graceful, the music projects a noble restraint and salon poise. The last movement, Con brio, combines rhythmic elements of mazurka and waltz, no less imbued with a witty panache by Mullova.

The 1935 Second Violin Concerto has enjoyed no end of splendid realizations, beginning on record with the classic Heifetz/Koussevitzky collaboration. From her opening statement, Mullova projects an eerie, wiry grace into the mysterious atmosphere Jarvi’s Frankfurt ensemble weaves around her. The music manages to echo all three cities of its composition: Paris, Baku, and Madrid. The five-beat phraseology of the first movement Allegro moderato assumes a driven, manic character offset by lyrical flights of fancy and imaginative scoring thoroughly indicative of the ballet Romeo and Juliet. The Andante assai cements the Concerto’s immortality by way of its lyrical effusion, over a pizzicato accompaniment; but the middle section allows Mullova her acerbic side, given the spiccato sixteenth notes that play against some brass militancy in the orchestra. A decidedly Spanish sensibility infuses the Allegro, ben marcato last movement, featuring five percussion instruments – including castanets – that appear selectively in the course of a rhythmically challenging progression. As per expectation, the audiences at the two Frankfurt venues express unbounded gratitude for these engaging, razor-sharp demonstrations of Mullova’s artistry.

—Gary Lemco

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