INKPOT#65 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: Leonid Kogan Legacy Vol.IV – PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No.2. Violin Sonatas, etc. (Arlecchino)

Leonid Kogan Legacy – Volume IV Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor op.63*
Violin Sonata No.1 in F minor op. 80
Violin Sonata No.2 in D major op.94 bis
Masque from Romeo & Juliet
March from The Love For Three Oranges

LEONID KOGAN violin
Andrei Mytnik piano *USSR Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kirill Kondrashin

ARLECCHINO Arl 9
[80’23”] full-price

by Ng Yeuk Fan

Kogan lends his great mature style to Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2 in G minor op.63. The work opens with assuring firmness, and the great tone is immediately recognisable. Kogan further adds a touch of sexiness to Prokofiev’s opening line, completely in tune with Prokofiev’s eternal wit. Fast passages are note-perfect, and at that, well-paced and imbued with nuance.

But the performance is not perfect: in contrast to the soloist, Kondrashin leads the USSR Symphony in an account of the accompaniment that becomes boring – some parts are too slow for my liking. Kondrashin seems to indulge in dreamy music making, but the brillant tone of Kogan breaks the spell each time he re-enters. This does not work to their advantage. With more certainty, the third movement can afford to be more sprightly, if not faster. Kondrashin’s laboured conducting is somewhat infectious. Bits of this rubs off onto Kogan’s otherwise exciting violin playing. However, Kogan as it were, wins the battle by remaining un-perturbed by the passive conducting. In any case, the entire ensemble suffers and the effectiveness of Prokofiev’s great music, especially in the third movement, is lost.

Though the sound picture of the orchestra is a bit faded into the background, it is still more than audible. In the long orchestral interlude, the depressed sound can cause one to lose concentration. Kogan’s violin playing however, is heard more than clearly.

Indeed, he conjures out the madness and schizophrenia that I desire of Prokofiev while not forgetting the tender lyricism that the composer intersperses in his concerto. This alternation between the two is handled with stylish ease. The important second movement motif is executed with great magnetism. Tempos are convincing. Listen to Kogan’s use of vibrato – each note comes to life regardless of the tempo.


Portrait of Prokofiev (1934) by Piotr KonchalovskyRight: Portrait of Prokofiev (1934) by Piotr Konchalovsky (1876-1956).

In the Violin Sonata No.1 in F minor op.80, Kogan tosses off the opening passages of multiple stop with magnificent skill. Further, he is heard to broaden his tone within a chord with unbelieveable ease. Amazing virtuosity is heard in the semi-quaver passages and the playing is phrased with such musical grace that I have not heard elsewhere, except perhaps in Gould’s playing of Bach lines. Kogan brings a mezza-voce to the violin, as it were – hear the opening of the Andante to believe. Though I have heard Heifetz employ this technique, I am tempted to say that the sweetness of tone that Kogan achieves here may be a sonic trademark unique to only him.

The sound is significantly worse here in this ‘live’ recording, but with no real difficulty, the piano is heard providing more than admirable support. There is enough madness here between the two, unlike the Shlomo Mintz/Yefim Brofman coupling on DG (reviewed here). Kogan conjures a hard edge in parts required of the violin, resorting to almost magnificent largeness of tone at the expense of beauty (Kogan’s strings are heard buzzing at some points). This is helped by Andrei Mytnik’s equally effective banging, as it were, on the piano. Such a wonderful sound! Altogether an excellent performance of the First Sonata, complete with coughs and chair creaks.

In Violin Sonata No.2 in D major, op.94bis, the pair repeats the success of the previous. The sound is significantly better here. There is a boldness in Kogan’s tone that tackles these passages with fearlessness. The Scherzo is played with so much wit, and at such a tempo that leaves me utterly breathless. The Andante is full of stylish sexiness. Gosh! Kogan demonstrates his intuituve phrasing here – one must hear this to believe/understand. These qualities, coupled with Kogan’s sprightly tone, unmearsurable bowing strength and Mytnik’s virtuosity add to make this version my rosette recording of the Sonata No.2.

Leonid Kogan - it's freaking hard to find pics of him The short pieces included here are welcomed additions in an already well-filled disc. These Heifetz transcriptions are virtuosic showpieces which are extremely difficult to play. Nevertheless, they are delivered here with characteristic Kogan greatness, though, the “Masque” is the better played of the two.

No one has yet matched Heifetz for his account of the “March” from The Love of Three Oranges. Listen to Kogan’s pizzicati in the “Masque” – I have heard top-class violin players deliver completely emotionless pizzicato – here Kogan demonstrates his mastery extending beyond the bow. The remarkable phrasing I mentioned earlier is heard again in this short piece – making it almost as if a small chamber ensemble if playing. Simply stunning!

This disc is available at or can be ordered from HMV (The Heeren), Tower (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City) or Borders (Wheelock Place).

Hear to believe – Ng Yeuk Fan must get the entire 30-plus volumes of Leonid Kogan’s legacy to know what he’s been missing.

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338: 10.11.98 Ng Yeuk Fan

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