- Sonata for viola & piano No. 1, Op.62
Soviet Russian Viola Musicby Igor Fedotov
Give Naxos credit for its ongoing ability to resurrect worthwhile music from forgotten places and times. The title Soviet Russian Viola Music is unlikely to stir the heart of any except specialists, and the music is apparently obscure even in the Russian-speaking sphere; three of the five pieces heard here have never been recorded before. But none of it is less than attractive, and any work on the disc could serve violists, whose chamber repertoire is notoriously sparse. The music ranges chronologically from the 1920s to the 1970s, and, like other music of the Soviet era, it gets more conservative the later you get; Vladimir Kryukov's "Sonata for viola and piano, Op. 15," which had its beginnings in 1920, is close to Scriabin, but the later works are in a more straightforwardly tonal and melodic idiom. Perhaps the most pleasing is Grigory Frid's "Sonata for viola, Op. 62/1," with its pair of beautifully sustained slow outer movements. The other work from the 1920s, the multi-section "Sonata for viola and piano, Op. 46," of Sergey Vasilenko, has a free structure (not particularly sonata-like, although the opening material returns at the transcendent conclusion) unlike anything else from the early-'20s period when it was written. Violist Igor Fedotov, who teaches at Western Michigan University in the U.S., throws himself into the project with gusto and delivers luminous performances. The first two works on the program, accompanied by Leonid Vechkhayzer, were recorded at a studio in St. Petersburg; in the balance of the music, the equally capable Gary Hammond is the accompanist, but the local church sound in Kalamazoo is less inviting. Fedotov's booklet notes are of the biographical-entry school: not terribly compelling, but useful for music that has almost been forgotten. A nice find for violists and their friends.
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Performance CreditsIgor Fedotov Primary Artist
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Much of the music of Soviet Russia is a mystery to the West, especially the viola works included here by composers Kryukov, Vasilenko, Frid, Krein and Bogdanov-Berezovsky. Naxos has gathered five rarely recorded and formerly unrecorded pieces into a recital format, showcasing these lost gems for lovers of the viola. Violist Igor Fedotov is joined by pianists Gary Hammond and Leonid Vechkhazyer as he brings the mid-20th Century works to life. The pieces are romantic and hopeful, steeped in a Russian sensibility that speaks directly to the modernization ushered in by the Soviet era. The compositions seemed trapped in that limbo world where the Soviets had left behind much of traditional Russian culture, all the while trying to stay ahead of the West in the Cold War. There are acknowledgments of the past, all the while attempting to stay contemporary. My favorite track is Vasilkeno's Sonata for Viola and Piano, a nontraditional and fragmented 18-minute piece in one movement that twists and turns through a number of themes before resolving beautifully at the end.
Soviet Russian Viola Music This release should appeal to three types of people: those that want to further explore Soviet-era music; those that want to further explore the sound of the often-neglected viola; and those (like me) who want to do both. Violist Igor Fedotov recently completed an exhaustive study of Russian 20th Century viola music, and this release is one of the results of that research. Fedotov presents five works for viola and piano, each by a different composer, spanning a good portion of the Soviet era. The earliest work is a sonata by Sergey Nikiforovich Vasilenko. His 1923 sonata rolls from one highly dramatic and expressive melody to another. By contrast, Vladimir Nikolayevich Kryukov's sonata, completed in 1933, betrays the composer's love of Scriabin, giving it a somewhat exotic sound. Bridging the early and late works on the album is a 1956 sonata by Valerian Mikhaylovich Bogdanov-Berezovsky, a close friend of Shostakovich. Bodgnaov-Berezovsky's is perhaps the most traditional in structure, but he still packs many original ideas into this short work. Two compositions from the 1970's round out the release. A sonata by Grigory Samulovich Frid (1971) and one by Yulian Grigo'yevich Krein (1973). In these works, one can hear elements of atonality and other Western compositional gestures sneak in -- held firmly in check by the overarching tonality of the works. By contextualizing some of these avant-garde elements, these compositions have both an immediate appeal, and enough depth to reward repeated listening. Igor Fedotov performs with easy assurance. It's clear he knows these works intimately, and can play to the strengths of the music. The viola has a slightly lower range than the violin, giving it a warm, rich tone. In proper hands (like Fedotov's) it can be just as nimble and expressive as the violin, although it hasn't really been until the 20th Century that composers really started to explore the soloistic potential of the instrument. These works were written primarily to showcase the viola, and Fedotov does not disappoint. Soviet Russian Viola Music fills in two gaps: it presents five talented Russian composers who are virtually unknown in the West, and it brings five more outstanding compositions to the solo viola repertoire. Not bad for one release. Recommended.