BRAHMS: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1, 2 & 3; Four Hungarian Dances – Leonid Kogan, v./ Andrei Mytnik, p. – Archipel

Impassioned, fiery Brahms from Leonid Kogan in live performance warrants our unqualified admiration.

BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78; Violin Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 100; Violin Sonata No. 3 in d minor, Op. 108; Four Hungarian Dances – Leonid Kogan, v./ Andrei Mytnik, p. – Archipel ARPCD 0355, 79:38  (1/8/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The most patrician of Russian violinists, Leonid Kogan (1924-19882) inscribed the live Brahms performances heard here 1951-1956. The two Moscow recordings of Brahms Sonatas in G and d minor (1955) come to us in good, solid monaural sound. The A Major Sonata (1956) derives from a London recital. May speculate about the nature of Kogan’s hard, incisive, driven sound which he produced on two Guarnerius del Gesu instruments, intimating that Kogan relied heavily on steel strings. Kogan sought through his basically “Soviet” musical training to project the same polish and majestic finish as Jascha Heifetz, his admitted idol. Whatever the truth, Kogan can produce – given the often thin, piercing nature of his (French) tone, with minimal vibrato – as lovely and soft a cantilena as any, especially if we audition the opening to the last movement of the so-called Regenlied Sonata, Op. 78 by Brahms.  Kogan’s capacity to embellish the often long musical line, to guide its rhythmic fluctuations and then lift the vocal character of the melody proves consistently thrilling, virtually beyond compare.

If the G Major Sonata had not convinced us, Kogan’s tender realization of the A Major Sonata compels us to admit the ferocity of Kogan’s love of the music of Brahms, how naturally the composer’s often restrained emotional vehemence can manifest itself, despite the impediments of sonata-form. No less organic to the experience, Mytnik’s alternately lyrical and stentorian piano collaboration endears this music to us. Certainly as effective as Mieczyslaw Horszowski had been for Joseph Szigeti, Myrnik follows the flexible musical line like a steel or velvet glove, as required. The “purity” of the line results partly from Kogan’s avoidance of sentimental effects, his never resorting to portamento. The chastity of effect continues into the Andante tranquillo, a meditation which cavorts gently into a lilting dance. Kogan injects tiny moments of propulsion into the phrasing, a taut, delicately fragile line. The remainder of the phrasing up to the da capo of the main tune achieves a plastic balance, with Kogan’s pizzicati’s creating a serenade sensibility. The demand for elegant legato phrasing in the last movement, Allegretto grazioso,  Kogan realizes without a wrinkle. The rondo proceeds, again, with sudden thrusts of exquisite sympathy, the old master’s passions subdued but no less ardent for the ardent dignity of the occasion.

The most dramatically tempestuous of the three sonatas, the d minor, has Mytnik underlining his phrases while Kogan’s sotto voce line moves above him – a long pedal point dominates the keyboard part in the development – in tightly drawn lines that seethe with unspoken emotion.  The lovely Adagio asks Kogan to deliver a plaintive melody whose harmonic lushness appears through parallel thirds.  Kogan takes the melody into some rare aether, then he allows the rapture to subside through a series of trills into an illumined sunset. The whimsical third movement – oft compared two lovers’ dalliance – seems even more coy in Kogan’s stealthy realization, tripping gingerly until it explodes momentarily into a more poignant statement. The grand passion of the Presto agitato loses nothing of its vehement drama in this rendition, which gallops and pants heavily in syncopation. Mytnik, too, imbues the chorale theme with a passionate menace, and both players’ virtuosity in the coda boldly ends the work in synchronized bravura.

The Four Hungarian Dances have appeared in CD format elsewhere, on the pirate Dante label.  The g minor (No. 1) explodes at virtually every measure, with Kogan’s lightning changes of register and tempo virtually blinding to the imagination.  Like Milstein, Kogan has a magnificent breadth in the d minor (No. 2), rife with double stops and gusts of forward motion.  The richly sentimental No. 4 in b minor receives the full, Technicolor gypsy treatment, with only the cimbalom being replaced by Mytnik’s piano. The middle section virtually meows in long phrases. The No. 17 in f minor projects a sultry nostalgia in a true bistro style, and we can throw coins or break plates, whatever the masterful finesse demands.

—Gary Lemco

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