FERGUSON; PROKOFIEV Violin Sonatas
The subtitle of this disc, ‘World War II and Holocaust Inspired Sonatas’, raises a question: in what way were any of these inspired specifically by the Holocaust? Prokofiev’s First Sonata (wrongly assigned Op 53 on the back cover but correctly as Op 80 in the booklet text) was begun in 1938 but set aside and not completed until eight years later. Its dark, minatory tone – in which he comes close to Shostakovich – more likely reflects the toxic era of the pre war Stalinist purges. Perhaps the Holocaust induced him to pick it up again; but his famous remark of one passage sounding like ‘a wind through a graveyard’ is unlikely for the victims of Nazi charnel houses.
Howard Ferguson’s fine Second Sonata was also completed in 1946, after his work with Myra Hess in presenting the wartime concerts in London was done. His music’s vigour and ferocity suggest the release from a burden rather than outrage at the Holocaust. Messiaen’s ‘Praise to the Immortality of Jesus’ was at least written in a camp, although Stalag VIII A was for POWs, not a concentration camp – another documentation error. The finale to the Quartet for the End of Time of 1940 41, it therefore (just) predates the Final Solution and is in any event a transcription of the second part of the organ Diptyque of 1930.
What of the performances? I like Betül Soykan’s clear tone and crisp phrasing, and Juan Pablo Andrade is, on the whole, a sympathetic accompanist. However, the Prokofiev does not hang together and the Allegro brusco is leaden – among modern interpreters, Repin and Berezovsky (Erato, 1/96) and Ibragimova and Osborne (Hyperion, 8/14) are much to be preferred. The Ferguson is very nicely done but there are finer accounts available, not least from Mordkovitch and Benson (Chandos). Bright, clear sound.