SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Sonata, Op. 134. 24; Preludes, Op. 34 (trans. D. Tziganov, L. Auerbach)

SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Sonata, Op. 134. 24 Preludes, Op. 34 (trans. D. Tziganov, L. Auerbach) • Grigory Kalinovsky (vn), Tatiana Goncharova (pn) • CENTAUR CRC-2636 (66:43)

Composed in 1968 in celebration of David Oistrakh’s 60th birthday, Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata is one of the masterpieces of the composer’s late years. Oistrakh had been a loyal friend and ally of Shostakovich, and had given the premieres of both his violin concertos, so this sonata was, as might be expected, a serious and deeply personal work. The first public performance, in which the violinist was joined by pianist Sviatoslav Richter, was a singular event—unforgettable for those who were present—and was captured on recording. Feverish in its highly-focused intensity, that performance, still available as part of a five-disc “David Oistrakh Edition” on Melodiya, will be the indispensable ne plus ultra for many listeners. The work clearly reverberated in every fiber of Oistrakh’s body. However, other recorded performances have appeared during the years, some of them very fine. One such is found on the recent Centaur release discussed here. 

More than half an hour in duration, Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata is a large-scale work of great gravity. Its somber cast permeates two lengthy movements, largely slow and reflective, which flank a brief, wildly barbaric scherzo. The concluding Largo is an elaborate passacaglia of visionary, if bleak, eloquence, and covers an expressive range of extraordinary breadth. Admirers of the composer agree that it is a great work, though less sympathetic listeners may find its protracted dreariness to pose a considerable challenge. Violinist Grigory Kalinovsky and pianist Tatiana Goncharova are young, Russian-born musicians, now residing in the United States. Neither had yet been born at the time of the sonata’s composition, so the duo may be regarded as “second-generation performers” of the work. While I do not pretend to have listened to all current recordings, I can state with confidence that this is one of the best—vigorous, searing with intensity, and meticulously accurate. 

Sharing the CD with the Violin Sonata are violin-and-piano transcriptions of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes, Op. 34, for piano solo, composed in 1933, shortly after the completion of Lady Macbeth of Mzensk. Most of the transcriptions were done just a few years later by Dmitri Tziganov, a violinist and close friend of the composer. Shostakovich is quoted as having said, “When I heard Tziganov’s arrangements of the Preludes I forgot they were originally written for piano, so naturally did they sound.” Tziganov actually transcribed only 19 of the Preludes; not until 1999 were the remaining five done, by the astoundingly gifted young composer and writer Lera Auerbach (who composed her own set of 24 Preludes for violin and piano that same year; see review in 27:6). This purports to be the first recording of the complete set of 24. The Preludes provide a natural contrast to the Sonata—as mercurial, varied, epigrammatic, and whimsical as the latter is monolithic, expansive, and profound. Clearly influenced by Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives, the Preludes highlight Shostakovich’s propensity for irony, mockery, parody, and black humor. (The exception, of course, is the Prelude No. 14, known also through an orchestration by Stokowski: a premonition of the gravity of the composer’s later years.) I would have to agree with Shostakovich’s reaction: There are no indications that one is hearing transcriptions of piano music. Again, the performances by Kalinovsky and Goncharova are crystal-clear and razor-sharp; listen, for example, to the hair-raising No. 5. 

This CD is highly recommended to those in the market for this particular repertoire.