Sergei Prokofiev – Violin Concertos & Sonata – Arabella Steinbacher, Russian National Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko (2012)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 01:04:24 minutes | 1,12 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Master, Official Digital Download – Source: highresaudio.com | @ Pentatone Music B.V.
Recorded: Grand Hall of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory January, 2012 (Concertos); Concertboerderij Valthermond, The Netherlands, May 2012 (Violin Sonata)
Composed in an extraordinarily tumultuous time, Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto is a work with a long and complicated genesis and reception history. In 1915, Prokofiev completed his studies at the St Petersburg Conservatory, where he had gained a reputation as a highly original talent who enjoyed nothing more than giving a jolt to the established musical order. The First Piano Concerto, which he himself had performed with none other than Serge Koussevizky, had already delivered him the prestigious Rubinstein Prize, and it was not long before the European music world was abuzz with his name. In Paris, he met the famed impresario of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, as well as his protegé, one Igor Stravinsky. And although Prokofiev and Stravinsky would never truly become friends, his Sacre left an indelible impression on the young composer.
Prokofiev’s violin concertos have been strongly represented on disc since the mid-1930s when Joseph Szigeti and Jascha Heifetz took up the First and Second respectively. Subsequently the works made a logical and satisfying pairing on vinyl LP. We expect something extra today; hence Arabella Steinbacher follows Gil Shaham in accommodating the 1947 Violin Sonata Prokofiev intended to be played by students en masse. It can seem rather underwhelming as a solo offering, especially if you know Bartók’s near-contemporaneous masterpiece, but Steinbacher does her best to disguise the prevailing blandness. Her general approach could be caricatured as heavy-handed, unfairly I think, even if her account of the First Violin Concerto is quite unlike Shaham’s, let alone that of Julia Fischer in her debut recording on the Pentatone label.
Renditions of this score still tend to be predominantly lyrical in feeling, Leila Josefowicz being one of the few to unearth a more belligerent subtext. Steinbacher also ditches some of the fairy-tale magic, making the piece seem ‘bigger’ through generally slower tempi and a wider range of expressive effects. The opening theme is not so much virginally pure as knowingly romanticised and there is a fair amount of unorthodox point-scoring later on. Many passages are played relatively straight but articulated with exceptional bravado, ‘roughed up’ at the expense of absolute beauty of tone; others might strike you as merely stolid.
If Steinbacher can be more ponderous than her rivals, she is also more original and it helps that she is so well served by both her accompanists and her sound team. While it is true that neither concerto was written to Soviet order, it is surprising how few authentically Russian orchestras, as opposed to soloists, feature on the Gramophone database. On this occasion Vasily Petrenko directs the Russian National Orchestra with his customary precision, launching the earlier concerto to rapt effect and providing a jewel-like instrumental backcloth underpinned by high-definition bass-lines. Even if Steinbacher’s Strad is brought rather close (she plays the ‘Booth’ instrument of 1716 previously on loan to Fischer), the sonic effect is spellbinding.
Prokofiev begins the Second Concerto with the soloist unaccompanied, the idea unspooling here more subjectively than some will like. Nor does Steinbacher quite nail the ecstatic lyricism of the slow movement. You’ll need to seek out Kyung-Wha Chung’s analogue recording to hear just how touching this music can be.
As befits an admirer of Ivry Gitlis with a scholarship from the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation, Steinbacher sounds determined to rethink these repertoire staples. Eschewing the settled eloquence of a David Oistrakh, she varies her tonal projection to highlight Prokofiev’s tendency to step on the throat of his own song. The verdict? Better try before you buy, although audiophiles and surround sound aficionados should not hesitate. -David Gutman, Gramophone
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Violin Concert No. 1 in D major Op. 19
1 Andantino 10. 22
2 Scherzo – Vivacissimo 3. 59
3 Moderato-Allegro moderato-Più tranquillo 9. 09
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 63
4 Allegro moderato 11. 20
5 Andante assai-Allegretto-Andante assai 10. 06
6 Allegro, ben marcato 6. 12
Sonata for Violin Solo in D major Op. 115
7 Moderato 5. 15
8 Theme – Andante dolce 0. 28
9 Variation 1 0. 28
10 Variation 2 – Scherzando 0. 26
11 Variation 3 – Andante 0. 32
12 Variation 4 0. 37
13 Variation 5 0. 41
14 Con brio-Allegro precipitato 4. 07
Arabella Steinbacher, violin
Russian National Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko, conductor