Dutch violinist Janine Jansen has made some unorthodox recordings (check out her Vivaldi Four Seasons sometime), but here, in a work in which proportion and technique are exquisitely balanced, she plays it straight with impressive results. Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2, composed in 1935 just before his return to the Soviet Union from France, has always been a popular repertory item, but Jansen's reading, ably accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski, has a pearly quality throughout, a kind of bright ease, that comes only at the highest levels of technique. Also notable is the combination of the concerto, not with the usual and unnecessary second repertory violin-and-orchestra piece, but with violin works of Prokofiev from roughly the same period. The program as a whole gives not only an added dose of the composer's unusually idiomatic violin writing, but also a slice of his life: the other two pieces are later than the concerto and represent further stages of his compositional life. The rarely heard Sonata for two violins in C major, Op. 56, is a spare and very attractive work that bears some relationship to the genesis of the concerto. The Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80/1, on the other hand, is a Prokofiev work of the late 1930s, after the grim ramifications of Stalinism for creative artists (not to mention just about everybody else) had begun to sink in; it's one of the few Prokofiev works with an emotional content similar to the sense of menace in much of Shostakovich's output. Jansen gets this tone, always a tricky proposition for a non-Russian, and her playing throughout is both perfect and vibrant. If there's a complaint it's with the sound; the duo sonata is closely and harshly miked, capturing the experience of sitting on a piano bench next to the performers rather than that of hearing them in an acoustically well-planned hall. The concerto and the violin-and-piano sonata are better, but no great shakes.
Review by James Manheim
|Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63|
|Sonata for 2 violins in C major, Op. 56|
|Sonata for violin and piano in F minor, Op. 80|