Brahms, Prokofiev: Violin Sonata in A, Op. 100,

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Prokofiev
LABELS: Bridge
WORKS: Violin Sonata in A, Op. 100,
PERFORMER: Berl Senofsky (violin); Gary Graffman (piano)
In 1955 the 30-year-old Berl Senofsky (who died last June) became the first non-Russian ever to win the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition. Ten years later Newsweek described him as ‘an American musical hero of Bunyanesque proportions’. But the enthusiastically predicted international career never really materialised. The two performances recorded here with pianist Gary Graffman show him to have been a player with the kind of sound that immediately makes one sit up and take notice – rich, round and full of energy, with a wonderfully generous vibrato, which the closely miked recording captures very vividly, though the effect can also be a bit claustrophobic. The technical control is just as impressive, and Senofsky obviously worked well with Graffman – a strong but never over-forceful duet partner. The accomplishment and extrovert expression are very exhilarating, but I have to admit I wasn’t quite so taken by Senofsky in the more reflective passages of both sonatas. In the Prokofiev, the Andante and the ‘wind in the graveyard’ episodes in the outer movements are a bit matter-of-fact – a long way from the numbed sadness of Shlomo Mintz with Yefim Bronfman on DG, a version which gets much closer to the pained heart of this Sonata. In the Brahms I prefer the subtler intimacy of Arthur Grumiaux and György Sebók (well worth putting up with the slightly faded Seventies stereo sound), and in Grumiaux’s version the finale flows more evenly – it certainly comes closer to Brahms’s marking grazioso (‘graceful’). Interesting, often enjoyable, but not a top recommendation. Stephen Johnson