Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Opus 63 (1935)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Opus 99 (1947-8)
Vadim Repin, violin
Hallé Orchestra cond. Kent Nagano
Erato 0630-10696-2 [58:59/DDD]

Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Opus 80 (1938-46)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D major, Opus 94b (1943/44)
5 Melodies, Opus 35b (1920/25)
Vadim Repin, violin; Boris Berezovsky, piano
Erato 0630-10698-2 [62:33/DDD]

Violinist Vadim Repin (born Novosibirsk, 1971) follows Maxim Vengerov (born Novosibirsk, 1974) into the Western musical arena with an outstanding coupling of a Prokofiev concerto with Shostakovich's First. (Vengerov's disc, replacing Prokofiev's Second with his First, features him with the LSO under Rostropovich [Teldec 4509-98143-2].) As with Vengerov, Repin knows what he thinks about these scores and his way with the Prokofiev is fascinating.

This work owes its popularity to the aria-like theme of its Andante - yet it's otherwise a mysterious piece: restless and dark and provocatively abrupt in its ending. Emphasising the dissonance of the solo double-stopping, Repin plays the concerto "in context" - which is to say: as the product of a period, prior to the composer's fateful final move back to the USSR, in which his enemies in the Composers' Union were stirring animosity against him, claiming that his avowed intent of seeking a "new simplicity" in his music insulted the Soviet People, whilst (simultaneously!) attacking him for élitism. At the Composers' Union early in 1935, the principles of Socialist Realism had, for the first time, been pitched against those of bourgeois individualism and formalism. The Second Violin Concerto was composed a few months later. Arguably the childishly pedantic flute arpeggios which Prokofiev uses to accompany the first statement of the "aria" theme are a satirical reply to his proletarian critics (mostly the same zealots that had savaged his ballet Le pas d'acier eight years earlier). If this is so, the change, for the restatement, to romantically sustained string chords becomes a further step in Prokofiev's "argument" with the forces of musical reductionism in 1930s Russia.

Once one starts to listen to the concerto in this way, its enigmatic restlessness becomes less arbitrary. The shadowy, evasive opening movement takes on the tone of the darker episodes in the narrative drama the composer was writing at the same time: Romeo and Juliet. (He seems to have designed this ballet to bypass his enemies by appealing over their heads to ordinary listeners with music which offered instant appeal without forfeiting expressive sophistication.) Similarly the bass-drum which paces the solo part throughout the rhythmically irregular finale begins to sound like a somewhat sinister ringmaster. In other words, the satire is integral. Repin is alive to all this and Nagano supports him with his usual attention to timbre and characterisation in the orchestral parts.

Cunningly suggestive in the Prokofiev, Repin blazes with passion in the Shostakovich, turning in a reading of unusual quickness (particularly in the scherzo, where Nagano and the Hallé nevertheless manage a performance of breathtaking accuracy and clarity). Moving more propulsively than usual in the Nocturne and Passacaglia, Repin does not achieve Oistrakh's depth of feeling [Le Chant du Monde LDC 278882-2], but scorches in the climactic passages, where he communicates an absolute certainty of what the music is saying. If the laser intensity of Leonid Kogan [Russian Disc RDCD 11025] shines brighter here, Repin's recording of this great concerto is nonetheless among the very best.

Sleevenote writers always introduce Prokofiev's grimly tragic F minor sonata by bringing up the composer's allusion to Handel. Yet, while there are technical justifications for this, it's an absurdly trivial aspect of a piece conceived at the height of Stalin's Terror and quite obviously a direct musical reflection on this. Far from idle fantasy, the famous "wind in a graveyard" passage in the first movement is intimately linked to the enormous boom in grave-digging which occurred around this time, while the three dominant bass Cs in the second and fourth movements are as explicit a projection of Stalinist brutality in musical terms as anything in Shostakovich's output. Repin and Berezovsky stress this brutality, contrasting it, by means of extreme dynamics, with the wanly elegiac moods elsewhere. Only at the beginning of the third movement is there any hint of technical insecurity (Berezovsky's flowing accompaniment figure). Otherwise, this is a thoroughly convincing reading as completely in touch with the music's meaning as, for example, Gidon Kremer's bizarrely self-regarding performance with Martha Argerich [Deutsche Grammophon 431803-2] is most certainly not.

Adapted from a flute-and-piano original composed as light relief from war-time work on War and Peace and Ivan the Terrible, the D major sonata is resolutely droll and radiant. Here, Repin and Berezovsky wisely decline to sentimentalise the dotted-rhythm secondary theme of the first movement, instead ironically inflecting it as an insouciant Parisian amble. Recurring in the jazzy sextuplets of the third movement, this Gallic flavour naturally dominates the Cinq Mélodies. All of these performances are perfectly idiomatic and delightfully brought off. For the sonata coupling, Repin and Berezovsky go to the head of the current class, their only plausible rivals being Ashkenazy and Perlman [RCA Victor Red Seal 09026-61454-2] and Mordkovitch and Oppitz [Chandos CHAN 8398].

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