Prokofiev: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Five Melodies, Op. 35

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Vanguard ATM
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1; Violin Sonata No. 2; Five Melodies, Op. 35
PERFORMER: Gil Shaham (violin), Orli Shaham (piano)
Gil Shaham has already shown his sensitivity to Prokofiev’s unique poetry in his superb recording of the violin concertos (DG). Here, in the fraught emotional landscape of the Sonata No. 1 in F minor at least, he faces an altogether greater challenge. Even if one is not prepared to consider the context in which that Sonata was written – during Stalin’s Terror and then the ‘Great Patriotic War’ – its moments of brutality and anguish need to be addressed. Alas, Shaham seems to have spent more time absorbing the gospel of ‘beauty’ as exemplified by Heifetz: it’s no accident, surely, that he has interspersed his recital with some of that legendary violinist’s transcriptions of cheerier Prokofiev melodies, one of which – the bright and perky ‘March’ from Op. 12 – immediately precedes the Sonata. Shaham brings to the Sonata less of the benumbed emotional landscape found by most violinists, but more of the gracefully turned phrase and of warm, burnished tone. Even the hard edges of the second movement Allegro brusco are initially smoothed over – only towards the end of that movement does one feel an increased sense of edginess and aggression: undeniably effective though this is as a crescendo of events, this is rather as if a production of King Lear were to mute the blinding of Gloucester in order to reserve some shock-horror effect for the play’s end. Shaham’s style is a better match for the relatively light-hearted Second Sonata and the charming Five Melodies. Even for these, one can find more characterful performances from Vadim Repin and Boris Berezovsky on Erato. However Repin’s performance of the First Sonata lacks the sober authority of David Oistrakh – the work’s dedicatee – who is best heard in a live recording with Sviatoslav Richter on Orfeo. Daniel Jaffé