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Nikolai MYASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Violin Sonata, Op. 70 (1946) [19:46]
Vissarion SHEBALIN (1902-1963)
Violin Sonata, Op. 51, No. 1 (1956) [21:36]
Vasily NECHAYEV (1895-1956)
Violin Sonata, Op. 12 (1928) [20:50]
Sasha Rozhdestvensky (violin), Viktoria Postnikova (piano)
rec. 2017, Academy of Choral Arts, Moscow
FIRST HAND RECORDS FHR 057 [62:12]

This disc introduces three late-romantic twenty-minute Russian violin sonatas. Their composers were born within a span of twenty years falling before or shortly after the turn of the 19th century. All saw the end of the Czar-dom and had their maturity under Communism.

First Hand and the Rozhdestvenskys are to be congratulated for shaking out three unknown works and giving a platform to the violinist son and pianist widow of conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Viktoria Postnikova has been well known to and warmly loved by audiences for years. Her son, Sasha Rozhdestvensky, is familiar to me on account of his Nimbus CD of the violin concertos by Glazunov and Shostakovich (review review).

The Myaskovsky Sonata, written between symphonies 24 and 26, is very welcome, not least because it has, until now, resisted a commercial recording. Die-hards have come to know it through a BBC broadcast, long ago, by Nona Liddell and Daphne Ibbott. After this the field of unrecorded Myaskovsky is narrowed and we can concentrate our hopes on his two 1940s works for chorus and orchestra: Kirov is With Us and the Nocturne: The Kremlin at Night.

In his Violin Sonata Myaskovsky does not disappoint. His markings for the two movements are faithful to what we hear: Allegro amabile and Andante con moto e molto cantabile. The first movement is all easily flowing legato grace. Occasionally the tone becomes slightly more burred but the mood and tempo is well suggested by the "amabile" aspect. For the finale a dignified Theme doffs its plumed hat to twelve fantastic and mood-variegated Variations. Some of them go at breathless velocity while others carry the inflection of Medtner's chivalry and Miaskovsky's nostalgic melancholy. A Coda brings the work's finale to an exuberant and emphatic close; so, just two movements.

While Nechayev is pretty much an unknown, Shebalin, who was a student and friend of Myaskovsky, has had his meed of recordings over the years. His choral works are on Toccata (review) as are two of his orchestral suites (review). The Violin Concerto has figured on a Regis CD while his five symphonies have put in an appearance on now-deleted Olympia (review review) alongside a fairly obscure group of discs surveying all his string quartets (review). He may also be remembered for his orchestration and completion of Mussorgsky's Sorotchynsy Fair (review). He also worked up as a violin solo a missing "pas de deux" from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Shebalin helped shape new generations of composers from the wider "family" of Soviet republics, including Ester Mägi, Veljo Tormis, Lydia Auster, Edison Denisov, Grigory Frid, Tikhon Khrennikov, Karen Khachaturian and Aleksandra Pakhmutova.

Shebalin's Violin Sonata, written a couple of years before the Fifth Symphony (which is dedicated to the memory of Myaskovsky), is in four movements: Allegro; Scherzando; Andante and Allegro. It says something about the man that these movement markings are less elaborate than those for the Sonata by his friend. The music proceeds gravely but there is a darker undertow to ideas which are certainly melodically characterful. There were times in the first movement when the sounds of the violin resemble those of John Ireland's Second but Shebalin is more uninhibited. Speaking of which, the Scherzando goes with a swing - a wild Cossack dance with plenty of interest for the pianist. The Andante steps steadily with a smile shaping its sometimes laborious progress. The hop and skip convulsions of the finale (another Allegro) fly along with sufficient complexity and sheer exhilaration to satisfy any of today's world class fiddlers. To add spice there is a moving central serenade with the Orient in its sinews.

This most Russian nationalist of sonatas carries a dedication to the violinist Rostislav Dubinsky and this is the work's first recording. Toccata have only recently issued a disc of Shebalin's complete music for violin and piano (including the Sonata) performed by Sergey Kostylev and Olga Solovieva on TOCC0327.

Nechayev's three-movement work follows a standard schema (fast-slow-fast) and his movement titles suggest a more subtle and prescriptive approach to the tone of each movement: I Vivace, appenato e leggieramente; II Lugubre and III Presto impetuoso. For a work dating from 1928, twenty or thirty years older than the other two works, this Sonata has a slightly more modernistic feel. However, it is only slight. The mood becomes more expressionist/fantastic in the central Lugubre which moves between dank and overcast, although at 2:00 a lyrical idea emerges on the violin. This is soon to be overwhelmed by a miasma which I associate with Zemlinsky/Delius/Griffes. The spiky spiccato of the finale, balanced with episodes of lyricism, suggests an influence by the Prokofiev First Violin Concerto. Generally speaking this work is a harmonious match for the Myaskovsky and Shebalin - just slightly more tart.

I see that there is a baritone Yuri Nechayev who Göran Forsling has described as a "major artist". He took the role of Mandarin in a Bolshoi/Swedish production of Turandot in 2005. There was also one Vladimir Alexandrovich Nechaev (1908—1969) who was a famed lyric tenor. I am not sure how common a name Nechayev is in Russia but perhaps there is a family connection with the composer?

"Our" Nechayev was both pianist and composer. He graduated in 1917 from the Moscow Conservatory where he studied with Alexander Goldenweiser and Sergei Vasilenko. His other compositions include the opera The Seven Princesses (Maeterlinck) and a Pushkin cantata (1949) as well as a septet on Kabardian themes (echoes here of Prokofiev and Myaskovsky), a string quartet (1924), cello sonata (1944-45) and piano works. The latter include a Sonata and 24 preludes in two sets (1945 and 1954-55). There are various songs and some film music. Plenty of scope there for another disc or two, although personally I still nurse hopes that we shall at last hear the mid-1930s Symphony by Yuri Shaporin (1887-1966). A composite set of Shaporin's three toweringly impressive epic cantatas would also be very welcome.

Viktoria Postnikova has many distinguished and beloved recordings to her name and her artistry for this Soviet Sonata project is just as distinguished. Looking back over a long career, her Decca recording of the Tchaikovsky music for piano and orchestra takes the laurels, both for her muscular and sparkling pianism and her husband's no-holds-barred way with Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The performances are captured in sound that is red-blooded and extended across a wide stage by Decca in 1982. Postnikova and Rozhdestvensky's Chandos Scriabin disc is another to be treasured and should not be relegated to the wings by limelight enjoyed by the recently issued Xiayin Wang's new Scriabin/Tchaikovsky Chandos CD (CHAN 5216).

First Hand have here delivered a disc of firsts: for the Miaskovsky it's the premiere commercial recording. For the Shebalin it's a first appearance on CD. As for Nechayev, the Sonata is here given its premiere recording and makes its first appearance on CD. Being first is sort of significant but the musicians and engineers here deliver music-making that reaches out to the listener.

Sasha Rozhdestvensky has dedicated these recordings "In memory of my beloved father, Gennady Rozhdestvensky (1931-2018)".

Rob Barnett

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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