Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Sonata for 2 Violins; Sonata for Violin and Piano. Janine Jansen, violin; Boris Brovtsyn, violin; Itamar Golan, piano; Vladimir Jurowski, London Philharmonic Orchestra. Decca B0017466-02.

It’s always a pleasure welcoming another recording from violinist Janine Jansen, who never fails to provide a stimulating, energetic, compassionate, yet wholly traditional performance of whatever she’s performing. Here, she plays the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto along with two of Prokofiev’s violin sonatas. They make attractive music.

Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) wrote his Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63, in 1935, just before he returned from a self-imposed exile from Russia and while turning to what he called a “new simplicity” in his music. The Concerto starts with a lonely violin solo that gets only a little bit hectic before settling down to a more modest, plaintive tone. Prokofiev was obviously softening his earlier dissonant style and relying more on melody, perhaps to appease the ultraconservative Russian musical censors of the day, who seemed to appreciate his new attitude.

Ms. Jansen begins by playing the Allegro moderato sweetly, with only a tinge of melancholy in a beautifully lyrical performance. Although it perhaps lacks something of the urgency of Heifetz’s old RCA recording, it makes up for it in its soaring lines and delicate nuances. Ms. Jansen’s interpretation emphasizes the beauty and poetry of the piece yet doesn’t overlook its strength. Incidentally, she plays a 1727 “Barrere” violin by Stradivari, and I can’t imagine its sounding any better in the past 200-odd years.

Following the opening movement, we find an Andante assai, with gently lilting melodies above a rhythmic arpeggio accompaniment and never sounding lovelier. Finally, Prokofiev closes the show with a pulsating, waltz-like finale featuring ever more-pronounced percussion elements overtaking the Gypsy swirls of the violin. Ms. Jansen gives the instrument a workout as the music comes to a sudden, climactic halt.

Regarding the two accompanying pieces, Prokofiev wrote the Sonata for 2 violins in C major, Op. 58, at about the same time as the Second Violin Concerto, and it displays a similar simplicity, which Ms. Jansen exploits nicely. The Sonata for violin and piano in F minor, Op. 80 no. 1, however, is much darker, a memorial for colleagues who disappeared under Stalin’s regime. It stands in stark contrast to the relatively unadorned grace and directness of the other two works, and again Ms. Jansen handles it appropriately, adding a touching solemnity to the occasion.

Decca recorded the Concerto at Henry Wood Hall, London, and the two Sonatas in Teldex Studio, Berlin, in 2012. The sound throughout comes up nicely defined, if just a touch hard. In the Concerto the engineers recorded the violin fairly closely for maximum detail, but the orchestra offers a good sense of depth. There is also a strong, deep bass response when needed, as well as quick transients, especially noticeable in the Concerto’s final movement. The recordings of all three works are clear and firm in the best Decca tradition.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

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