February 17, 2022


Prokofiev: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Sonata for Solo Violin. Tianwa Yang, violin; ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jun Märkl. Naxos. $13.99.

Saint-Saëns: La Muse et le poète; Chausson: Poème symphonique: Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending; Anatol Kos-Anatolsky: Poem for Violin and Orchestra; Kenneth Fuchs: American Rhapsody (Romance for Violin and Orchestra); Myroslav Skoryk: Carpathian Rhapsody. Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin; National Symphony of Ukraine conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko; Sophie Shao, cello. Centaur. $15.99.

     The tonal excellence of youthful violinists Tianwa Yang (born 1987) and Solomiya Ivakhiv (born 1980) stands out immediately in two new recordings, one focusing on a single composer and the other featuring six very different ones whose works partake of certain emotional resonance in common. Yang’s handling of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 is the highlight of a recent Naxos release. A youthful piece, dating to 1917 (when Prokofiev was 26), this is a work of much more lyricism, charm and warmth than is usual in Prokofiev’s music, perhaps because the beautiful violin melody that opens the first movement was inspired by the composer’s love interest at the time. There is a kind of luminous quality to much of the concerto, a feeling of beauty sometimes barely concealed and sometimes bursting forth with a kind of naïve simplicity that gleams and sparkles. Yang, ably abetted by the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under Jun Märkl, gets to the heart of the music and plays it with just the right combination of virtuosity and apparent simplicity to make the whole concerto a very emotionally satisfying experience. Even when more-typical elements of Prokofiev’s style come through in the central Scherzo, Yang keeps them whimsical rather than sarcastic, wry rather than intense, with the result that the work’s overall impression becomes one of airiness and lushness – despite the concerto’s technical demands. Yang also does a fine job, if not quite to the same exceptional degree, with the better-known and more-typical-for-Prokofiev second concerto, written in 1935. Here lyricism takes a back seat to a kind of emotionally spare approach mingled with the sort of sardonic wit for which Prokofiev is known. The second concerto is darker and cooler than the first, its mood sometimes reserved, sometimes downright chilly. All this does not fit Yang’s generally bright and ebullient style quite perfectly: her playing is excellent (as, again, is that of the orchestra), but a certain amount of the intensity and disturbance of the music is missing. This tones down the impact of the concerto to some extent, although there is nothing wrong with preventing the work from coming across as bleak and dour, as it sometimes can. Yang’s performance here is one that bears repeated hearings even though, or perhaps because, it is not instantly captivating. Yang herself, without accompaniment, also offers here the Sonata for Solo Violin of 1947, a single-instrument version of a piece originally written for an ensemble of child violinists. The work is not exceptionally difficult but is scarcely simple, and Yang seems quite comfortable with its comparatively naïve outlook, its lyricism, its folk-like elements, its hints of nostalgia. As she does in her performance of the first concerto, Yang in the sonata shows herself finely attuned to Prokofiev’s milder and more openly graceful style, comfortable with the sunnier side of a composer whose darkness and sardonic elements are more frequently brought to the fore.

     There is little that is dark on Ivakhiv’s new Centaur CD, which interestingly offers three well-known rhapsodic works and three that are almost wholly unknown. Saint-Saëns’ La Muse et le poète, whose title comes not from the composer but from his publisher, is a conversational work for violin and cello: Ivakhiv and Sophie Shao adeptly toss themes back and forth, offering what is mostly tender and rather surface-level music in a performance that neatly alternates between the playful and the poetic, if scarcely the profound. Chausson’s Poème symphonique is a more-virtuosic work, featuring several cadenzas and sounding almost like a concerto movement (or one-movement concerto). Like Saint-Saëns’ piece, Chausson’s explores multiple moods, but it does so with greater intensity and more contrast between darkness and light – and Ivakhiv explores its multiple elements with sensitivity and care. Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending also includes multiple cadenzas, along with folk-like material and a structure that places simplicity at the service of a subtle evocation of avian flight and the bird’s existence somewhere between Earth and heaven. Ivakhiv’s performance here is itself subtle and carefully evocative, warm without being overdone or over-expressive. In all these works, the National Symphony of Ukraine under Volodymyr Sirenko supports the soloist with feeling and understanding, allowing her to remain front-and-center while underlining aspects of each composer’s aesthetic to fine effect. Ivakhiv and Sirenko also are well-matched for the three works on the CD that are not likely to be known to most listeners. Poem for Violin and Orchestra by Anatol (or Anatoliy) Kos-Anatolsky (1909-1983) has warmth and lyrical flow reminiscent of Tchaikovsky, with a kind of unforced beauty in the solo part that contrasts with orchestral sections that have greater intensity and would not be out of place as film music. American Rhapsody (Romance for Violin and Orchestra) by Kenneth Fuchs (born 1956) is, perhaps surprisingly, similar in approach and effects: it includes spun-out melodies, several cadenzas, contemplative solo sections interspersed with more-assertive orchestral material, and an eventual sense of transfiguration emerging not through hard-won battles but through more-contemplative means. The final work on this disc differs in mood from the others: Carpathian Rhapsody by Myroslav Skoryk (1938-2020) is filled with dance rhythms and clear folk-music elements – it is a display piece in ways that the other works here are not, with only the slow and emotive opening (which returns at the end, mingled with the dancelike material) having something of a rhapsodic feel. This is a particularly well-chosen, well-blended program of music for violin and orchestra, both in the way it mixes better-known with less-known material and in the way it shows multiple composers bringing their own ideas and approaches to the concept of rhapsodic music.

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