Orfeo D’Or C657 051B, 78:01 (Distrib. Qualiton) ****:
The afternoon of 8 August 1978 brought to the Grosses Festspielhaus at Salzburg the last appearance of the eminent Russian violinist Leonid Kogan (1924-1982), accompanied by his daughter by Elivabeta Gilels, Nina (b. 1954). A patrician among violinists, perhaps the most renowned Soviet violin player in Russia after David Oistrakh, Kogan struck an imperial presence personally and musically. Kogan’s spare use of vibrato, his eschewal of portamento, and his insistence on the cleanest projection of the written notes, forged a lucid, chaste sonority and piercing tone that instantiated musical sobriety. The Soviet Heifetz, with perhaps the difference that Heifetz might bulge a note or apply shifting bow pressure, whereas Kogan remained the steadiest of bowing arms. As for daughter Nina, her training proved itself when she won the Marguerite Long Competition in Paris. After 1967 Nina was an almost constant musical companion to her father until his premature death on 17 December 1982.
The opening Beethoven Sonata in D has the earmarks of a real partnership, a happy, classical balance of parts, with the keyboard filigree perhaps still dominating the violin’s thin-lipped line. The rhythmic alertness of the performance manifests itself in the wonderful theme-and-variations Andante con moto – a virtual, limpid stream of weaving invention. The spontaneous elan of the duo permeates the quicksilver Rondo: Allegro, in which Nina’s underlying pulsation complements the violin’s acrobatic flair. The Brahms Sonata exhibits considerable more freedom, with Nina taking all sorts of rhythmic license while Leonid intones powerfully and passionately above. The Adagio becomes a real love song, an extended, noble cantilena set in high relief. The usually diaphanous Un poco presto e con sentimento third movement possesses a darker hue than is its wont; the gambols injure feelings, and storms threaten to burst forth. The fever proves fearsome in the last movement, albeit assuaged by moments of tenderness. Kogan spins out a series of finely spun lines, even in the midst of emotional maelstrom. Nina Kogan’s detached chords produce some eerie effects as we march, then gallop to meet our destiny.
The hothouse emotions of Franck’s A Major Sonata tend to lie in pianist Nina Kogan’s hands than in her father’s, since Leonid projects elegance without superfluous perfume. The confrontation of classical versus romantic impulses produces a palpable twnsion in the unfolding of this tightly scripted piece, whose motor and melodic elements recycle. Nina picks up the level of virtuosity for the Allegro, a throbbing plaint that yearns operatically for Isolde. In the Recitativo-Fantasia the love scene finds culmination, lyrically poignant as anything in Wagner’s Liebesnacht. Somehow, the poise and evenness of Leonid’s line only heightens the mystical effect. The final in canon might have been written for Kogan, the embodiment of the Apollinian dithyramb. The array of emotions pass in exotic, contrapuntal show before us, until the piano’s brief cadenza interrupts, and then the feverish procession renews itself and pushes to a fine-honed peroration, no kidding around. The Gallic sensibility merges with the gypsy soul in Ravel’s kaleidoscopic Tzigane, where Kogan can, Zorba-like, cut the leash on his own temperament and float or whip his muse according to his whim. The opening cadenza, with its high flute tones and double-stop dreaminess plays as from one possessed. When the piano cascades into the mix, the trills and arpeggios take us to a land Peer Gynt may have visited. Delicate colors and huge swaths of sound alternate in fiery succession, until the form and the audience explode in appreciation of truly matched pair of musical artists.