Prokofiev: Complete Works for Violin

COMPOSERS: Sergey Prokofiev
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev: Complete Works for Violin
WORKS: Complete Works for Violin: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Sonata for two violins, Op. 56; Sonata for Violin Solo, Op. 115; Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2; Five Melodies
PERFORMER: James Ehnes (violin), Amy Schwartz Moretti (violin: Sonata No. 2); Andrew Armstrong (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Gianandra Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN10787

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This is not quite the first complete set by a single soloist of Prokofiev’s violin works (Frank Peter Zimmermann got there first), but it is certainly the most enticing. I have not heard such a beautiful performance of the First Violin Concerto since Itzhak Perlman’s 1982 EMI recording, and Ehnes enjoys the advantage of a more natural balance with the orchestra, so one can really hear the detail of Prokofiev’s finely scored and inspired orchestration. There is the vernal beauty of the various settings of the opening theme on its return at the end of the first and final movements; and the gossamer-light scherzo dances, full of child-like energy and excitement. One may wish that Ehnes had played the first movement’s scherzando second subject with a bit more mischief, but this feels like quibbling in the face of so seductive a performance. Both the Double Violin Sonata (Ehnes well-matched by Amy Schwartz Moretti), and even the Solo Sonata – the latter originally intended to be played by a unison group of violinists – are revealed to be much-underestimated masterpieces, while the balance in the Second Violin Concerto between inspired lyricism and a more malevolent strain has rarely been so well realised.

Disc number two programmes the Sonatas for Violin and Piano and Five Melodies. Ehnes smoothes some of the First Sonata’s rough edges (David Oistrakh’s live performance with Sviatoslav Richter on Orfeo is highly recommended), yet its menace and brutality emerge clearly enough. And while the opening movement of Sonata No. 2 is too nonchalant and lacking in character, Ehnes makes ample amends in its following movements, most particularly the fleet and light-footed second movement scherzo and the splendidly strutting finale. The Five Melodies are beautiful, but played more for beauty of tone than for their wistful and sometimes playful character. Overall, though, a real winner.

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Daniel Jaffé