Prokofiev: Violin Sonatas; Five Melodies
Though himself a pianist, Prokofiev was inspired by several great violinists to compose some of his most candidly expressive music for their instrument. The greatest work recorded on these two albums is arguably the F minor Sonata written for David Oistrakh. A profoundly expressive work encompassing rage and grief, it was completed two years after the Violin Sonata No. 2 (itself an arrangement of his Flute Sonata) yet was designated No. 1, since Prokofiev started the work in 1938 at the height of the period known as Stalin’s Terror.
Isabelle van Keulen, partnered by the excellent Ronald Brautigam, is relatively restrained. Not that her sound gives unmitigated delight: vibrato appears to be self-consciously applied, rather than intrinsic to her playing, and disappears on sustained loud notes. Van Keulen is most successful in the ‘lighter’ works, particularly the Five Melodies. Her limpid style in the Second Sonata recalls its flute origins, and there are characterful touches such as her coy introduction of the finale’s sentimental central theme. Van Keulen’s generally brisk and no-nonsense approach, though, gives little room for stronger emotions. In the First Sonata she is simply too polite and ‘tasteful’, reducing the second movement’s brutality to that of a comic-book martinet.