SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Sonata. 24 Preludes
It makes sense to couple the two Shostakovich piano trios, even if his first work in the form is a not-quite-complete student exercise and his wartime masterpiece can prove difficult to bring off. Ilya Gringolts, raised in what was then Leningrad and nowadays Swiss-based, joins Swiss-born colleagues in capable readings unlikely to make great waves. With their American-domiciled pianist opting for cultivated discretion, the string players sometimes fail to find the bleak heart of the Second Trio despite exploring variations of timbre from vibrato-less pallor to insistent raspiness. The opening paragraph is kept deliberately bald, the recording tangibly present.
Many contemporary groups seem to bypass the con sordino markings at the cyclic return of first-movement material in the finale. Not so here, yet the likes of Gidon Kremer better convey the sense of strain produced by playing as loudly as possible on the muted instrument. Then again, the latter’s high-octane 1998 collaboration with Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich was condemned as twitchy and over the top by Gramophone’s reviewer. The ‘authenticity’ of the émigré Borodin Trio, working a decade earlier when the Soviet Union was still very much intact, is exemplified by statelier manners and an unhurried Scherzo. Somehow both these vintage renditions feel more involved than the modern team.
There’s more Russian dirt under the fingernails in the Violin Sonata, the substantial makeweight. You might miss the heavier style, ‘pulsing’ vibrato and closer miking of Oleg Kagan with Sviatoslav Richter but the brooding restraint of Gringolts and Gilles Vonsattel in the sober opening movement is complemented by an aptly stomping Scherzo. For fans of physical format it may all come down to couplings. Vladimir Ashkenazy and friends round out their recent piano trio pairing with the Viola Sonata instead. Isabelle Faust is the violinist on an overlapping issue of the Violin Sonata whose prime selling point is Alexander Melnikov’s exceptional advocacy of the two piano concertos.
At medium price, Sergei Dogadin and Nikolai Tokarev offer a different take on the Violin Sonata, broader than usual in the later movements. We can’t be sure Shostakovich would have approved – he raced through his own oeuvre nervily and at speed – but their music-making is carefully considered rather than maximally intense. The cheerier Preludes are given in Dmitry Tsyganov’s arrangements plus five realised more recently by the Russian-American polymath Lera Auerbach. Where older recordings tended to present Tsyganov’s 19 transcriptions in his own sequence, this one restores the original order of Shostakovich’s Op 34 set.
Final-round performances of the composer’s First Violin Concerto helped Dogadin to victory in 2015’s Hanover-based Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition and second place in 2016’s Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition. Not the first Russian pianist to share a name with a prominent oligarch but possibly the first to tour in black leather trousers, Tokarev has been more ubiquitous on disc. Naxos provides decent notes, less in the way of glamour.