Nikolai Rakov is little more than a name in reference sources,
though much of his obscurity is due to his position in Russian
music being eclipsed by such eminent contemporaries as Shostakovich,
Khachaturian, Kabalevsky and their confreres. Rakov (1908-90)
developed into a fine violinist and was later taught by Glière
and Prokofiev. He displayed a very personal approach to his
folkloric heritage, always subtly integrated and deployed. It’s
not surprising that he was himself a fine teacher, and amongst
his many students numbered Schnittke, Karen Khachaturian, Andrei
Eshpai and Gennady Rozhdestvensky. His violin concerto has been
recorded at least twice: Oistrakh
All the violin works in this adventurous disc are heard in premiere
recordings. There are two sonatas, two Sonatinas and a set of
three smaller pieces dating from 1943, the earliest in the set.
It’s as well to start here, where one notices immediately
the Prokofiev-like and very crisp Scherzino. The last
of the three is a Poem, a very intense, indeed neurotically
high-lying affair that suggests an obvious external agenda.
The first sonata followed in 1951 and sounds much different.
There’s a fulsome romantic ethos at work here, not least
in the piano writing. Incremental intensity builds in the central
slow movement, whilst the finale revisits the glories of the
late nineteenth century school with a kind of updated Franckian
quality. The second sonata dates from 1974. This is a far more
impressionistic affair with a Debussy ethos very much to the
fore. In fact, to my ears, Rakov alludes to the Frenchman’s
Violin Sonata quite markedly throughout the first movement,
and it’s a work he must have played or at least known
very well. The slow movement is slightly austere, the finale
full of droll exchanges and badinage between violin and piano.
The two Sonatinas, Nos. 2 and 3 are brief, as their nomenclature
suggests. The Second (1965) oscillates between relaxed and more
moto perpetuo impulses, adds a slightly sardonic march,
and ends up with unashamed brio, perhaps recalling Rakov’s
own virtuoso-inclining youth. The Third Sonatina, or Little
Triptych, of 1968 is a deceptively simple affair, charmingly
suave, with a violin line that hints at Shostakovich at his
most unselfconsciously communicative.
Rakov’s violin music is certainly worth reviving. He’s
no stylistic jet-setter, preferring established models, which
he subsumes into his writing with thoughtfulness and care. Folkloric
influences here are not overt. The recordings do full justice
to the works. David Frühwirth is one of those underrated
violinists who is, nevertheless, carving out a fine career for
himself: see reviews of his Trails
of Creativity, Short
Stories and Seiber
discs. Milana Chernyavska is the excellent and imaginative pianist.
The recording is quite close, so connoisseurs of violinistic
intakes of breath (sniffing to thee and me) can have some further
ammunition in this disc. It’s not so bad, and certainly
doesn’t detract from the engaging performances.
If I can just offer a correction to Jonathan Woolf's review
of what sounds a most worthwhile disc of violin music by Nikolai
Rakov: most of these pieces are not receiving their premiere
recordings. The first sonata appeared on a Melodiya LP performed
by David Oistrakh, and the two sonatinas on another performed
by Eduard Grach, all with the composer at the piano. Oistrakh
and Rakov also recorded a "Poem" which may or may
not be one of the 1943 Three Pieces (I would try to check but
a lot of my LPs are currently rather inaccessible!). All this
info is on Onno van Rijen's Soviet music web pages.