PROKOFIEV: Violin Sonata No. 1 in f, Op. 80; Violin Sonata No. 2  in D, op. 94 bis; Five Melodies, Op. 35 bis – Alina Ibragimova, violin/ Steven Osborne, piano – Hyperion CDA67514, 60:45 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (7/8/14) ****:

Prokofiev returned for good to Russia, after many enticements, just before Stalin’s Great Reign of Terror in 1937. With so many friends disappearing, arrested, and accused, it is hardly a wonder that the oddly off-metrical themes in the First Sonata present such a queasy and patently disturbing portrait of his emotional state at the time. The work kept getting interrupted for a number of years, first by Alexander Nevsky, then WWII, and he finally returned to it in 1943 with much difficulty. He told friend and dedicatee David Oistrakh that the rushing passages in the first and last movements should sound like “wind in a graveyard”, and the darkness of the piece rivals anything he ever composed; indeed, it rivals anything in that period of Soviet horror.

So traumatic was the experience of this composition that it was actually halted for the creation of the Second Sonata right in the middle of the process. This work, actually a revision of his Flute Sonata, Op. 94, is a much brighter and cheerier piece, again written for Oistrakh, full of rich harmonies and floating melody that only rarely betray an undercurrent of dissent or discontent. It ranks with one of the composer’s most popular chamber works, and in fact has been transcribed for other instruments too (if you want to hear a really fabulous account, listen to former Montreal Symphony bassoonist Nadina Mackie Jackson on Ball Media 1809).

The Five Melodies are simply transcriptions from Prokofiev’s Five Songs without Words, written in simpler times (1920) for mezzo-soprano Nina Koshetz, exquisite miniatures each and well worth the 35 or so recordings currently available. Alina Ibragimova has been well-reviewed in these pages and I will not interject anything caustic into that process. Her tone is smooth and even seductive, though I hesitate to use the word “rich”; she still sounds like a rather small-boned player to me despite Hyperion’s perfect miking. This isn’t a criticism—in fact, with this composer it can come in pretty handy, but for good contrast one only has to listen to Dimitri Sitkovetsky on Virgin Classics to get the difference. He is large and bold, and rather “fruit forward” as we might say about California wines, while Ibragimova is much more the Burgundy type—subtle, suave, and slowly revealing. I’d better stop before I get too thirsty, but don’t you stop from acquiring this fine disc, especially if your collection is absent of these mandatory sonatas.

—Steven Ritter