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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata for two violins in C, Op. 56 (1932) [13:40]
Sonata No. 1, for violin and piano in f minor, Op. 80 (1938/1946) [21:38]
Sonata No. 2, for violin and piano in D, Op. 94a (1944) [23:48]
Jaakko Kuusisto, Violin I (op. 56), solo (op. 80)
Pekka Kuusisto, Violin II (op. 56), solo (op. 94a)
Iikka Paanannen, piano (op. 80)
Paija Kerppo, piano (op. 94a)
Recorded at the Finnish Broadcasting Company Studios in September, 1998 DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 60623-2 [68:17]


Sergei Prokofiev is considered by some to be one of the greatest musical minds of the twentieth century, possessing a genius akin to that of Mozart. His skill in nearly every genre of composition certainly goes far in supporting this assertion. Born in Russia in 1891, he left his native land in 1918 in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, living abroad in both the United States and Europe until 1936, when he resettled permanently in his homeland. While abroad, his music was not as immediately well received as he had hoped, and derogatory terms and names such as barbaric, and enfant terrible were assigned to him and his music. It was not until his return to the Soviet Union that his style began to mellow, both as a result of the strictures of the government and his intentional choice of simplification, that his music began to become more accessible.

The Sonata for two violins dates from this period of transition, and was in reality a diversion from the more taxing orchestration of his fifth piano concerto. The inspiration for the work came from a similar piece by another composer that Prokofiev had deemed inferior. He claimed that good ideas could sometimes stem from bad music. What he accomplished on his own is a remarkable and haunting work, full of taut harmonies and eerie, wistful melodies. There is so much wintry beauty in this piece, that it leaves me wondering why it is so seldom heard in concert. The gorgeous third movement which the composer allows to be played either with or without mutes (it is muted here) is alone worth the price of admission.

The brothers Kuusisto are of perhaps the ideal temperament to perform this very equal and ensemble-cast composition. Theirs is a perfect give and take, without ego and equal. Intonation and balance is spot on, their sense of line and cantabile is simply gorgeous. I have to caution the listener to have oxygen handy when listening, as the third movement is so beautifully rendered, that one might forget to breathe for fear of destroying the music.

The numbering of the two sonatas with piano accompaniment can be a bit confusing, as they were premiered and labeled out of order. Although the f minor sonata was given its first performance (by David Oistrakh) after the opus 94a, it was begun in 1938, some years before its debut. Prokofiev revisited it in the early 1940s and it was at that time that it was first performed. Movements from the f minor sonata were the only music of his own writing to be played at the composerís funeral, being the only one of his works that his friends thought to be appropriately somber. Its melancholy comes from the composerís own frustrations at being restricted from practically all physical activity as a result of a head injury. In 1945, he suffered a mild heart attack and as a result fell down a flight of stairs. The injury to his head was to restrict and afflict him for the remainder of his life. After his accident, composition was all that the vibrant performer-composer was permitted by his doctors to undertake, and the music of this period reflects his depressed state of mind.

Jaakko Kuusisto is an able virtuoso, and a soulful interpreter of this sometimes boisterous, sometimes achingly lyrical music. Prokofiev obviously poured all of his dual ability to write both beautiful melodies and finger-busting virtuoso passages. Mr. Kuusisto captures both elements with sophistication and ease. His is a warm rich tone, and when called for, his playing is fleet of finger and astonishingly effortless. No theatrical histrionics here, rather, we are treated to a crystalline beauty and driving energy like unto a snowstorm observed from the safety of a picture window. Iikka Paananen very ably partners him at the keyboard.

The Opus 94a began life as a flute sonata, and was composed as a distraction from the intense work on the ballet Cinderella, which was created during the height of the Second World War. Works for wind instruments are rare in Prokofievís catalogue, and it took little effort on the part of David Oistrakh to convince the composer to rework the sonata for violin. He made a few melodic changes, mainly to accommodate bowing, and added double stops in certain passages to add to its virtuoso element. The piano part is identical to that of the earlier flute version.

The opening movement is possessed of perhaps one of the most gorgeous melodies in Prokovievís entire output, much akin to the equally haunting opening to the seventh symphony. In many respects it is like the best of arias, giving the listener a memorable tune and the performer something meaty to dig into. Its jaunty presto is a real workout for both players and Pekka Kuusisto and his partner Raija Kerppo handle it with ease. There follows another brief lyrical movement and is then rounded off by a splendidly active allegro finale. The Kuusisto family must be remarkable indeed to produce not one but two fine violinists. Pekka seems to favor a more heart-on-the-sleeve approach to his playing than his brother. His playing has a slightly harder edge to it than that of brother Jaakko, but this is certainly not a detriment. Rather, it is playing that is full of excitement and vigour, and yet perfectly able to sing when needed.

In summary, this is an exceptionally fine performance of some magnificent music. Apex are to be commended for their recent flood of interesting re-issues, in particular for their willingness to skirt much of the core repertoire for items of much greater interest. Further, the exposure of so many fine younger, newer artists to the international scene is another meritorious consideration. Rounded off with fine sound and excellent program notes, this disc is a bargain priced winner on all counts. Put it on your shopping list.

Kevin Sutton


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