Akimenko: Music for Violin & Piano
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Akimenko: Music for Violin & Piano
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This new release is the first album ever to be dedicated to the music of Ukranian composer Fyodor (Theodore) Akimenko (1876-1945). Akimenko was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov in St. Petersburg, and later went on to be the first teacher of Stravinsky. In 1923, Akimenko chose exile over his career in St. Petersburg, and he finally settled in France in 1929, where he changed his name to Theodore and wrote a great deal of Romantic compositions. The featured soloist on this recording, violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova, began playing piano at the age of 7 and made her professional debut at only 14. She was recently awarded the Jeffrey Thomas Award 2016.
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The second violin sonata is perhaps the finest work on the disc. As in the first sonata, the slow movement is lovely. The third movement has both fast and slow sections. The piano texture is quite thick in places. The sonata ends slow and quietly. I find this sonata to be more or less the equal of works by Sergei Bortliewicz, a more widely recorded Ukrainian contemporary of Akimenko. Of the lighter works on this
cd, the Op 31 number 3 is a charming little dance piece. The Melodie Russe incorporates folk elements.
The artists strike me as giving a spirited performance. The recording quality is very good but not quite in the audiophile class. What we have here is 5 star performances of 3 and 4 star compositions. Recommended to those who like late romantic music for violin and piano.
• Akimenko writes in a Russian Romantic salon style influenced by French impressionism.
• Violin Sonata No. 1 (1907) contains folk dance rhythms and lyricism, but apart from its serious theme & variations movement, this piece is just okay; it didn't make a great impression on me.
• Violin Sonata No. 2 (1911) is steeped in French impressionism, but its themes are not very distinctive. The finale amounts to a concoction of folk dances, but I must say I was amazed by the haunting and intense "Andante"—now that's a gem.
• The short salon pieces from 1909 and 1912 are pretty lightweight, encompassing airy French colors, genial dances, and Slavic melancholy. I prefer the latter from Akimenko, and his "Melodie russe" and "Cantabile" are both excellent and exude pathos.
• This disc might appeal to specialists, but I urgently recommend other esoteric violin-and-piano works by Novak,Röntgen,Aubert,Kahn, and Philipp Scharwenka.
• Performances are decent and expressive, although Tatiana Chulochnikova (violin) has a bright piercing tone that detracts from the refined salon mood of these works.
Only specialists, scholars, and intrepid explorers of Russian music will know the name Feodor Akimenko (1876-1945). This Ukrainian composer studied with Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov and would produce over 90 opus numbers. For twenty years he lived in France where he came under the influence of impressionists. It was during these years in Paris that he met and taught Stravinsky. Judging from this selection of works, Akimenko's style is an alloy of folk-tinged Russian Romanticism, salon aesthetics, and French impressionism.
With a dedication to Eugene Ysayë, the Violin Sonata No. 1 (1907) certainly features a prominent and starring role for the violin. Folk dance rhythms are commonplace throughout this work. In the opening "Andantino," the violin part is virtuosic yet understated, tackling sprightly dance material as well as slow lyrical double stops. There's a constant sway and motion suggested by the violin, rarely interrupted by the piano or stopping for breath. Next is a theme and variations, initially stated by solo violin in a passacaglia-like fashion. Soon enough the piano has a larger role in the drama with thick chordal writing. Notwithstanding its dance rhythms and spry violin lines, these variations are serious and make a better impression than the outer movements.
The Violin Sonata No. 2 op. 38b (1911) embraces French impressionism and employs sharper chromaticism. In the first "Allegro," the piano part is more contrapuntal, busily moving against the violin. Not much is memorable about this movement, as the tempo and texture fluctuate erratically and the thematic ideas are nebulous. Much more convincing is the "Andante," a slow lament of haunting beauty and intense violin writing. This is a lyrical gem. The finale is ostensibly a rondo, but comes off as a potpourri of folk dances, at once jovial, poetic, fiery, and pastoral. There's some fine melodic dances here with interesting mood shifts between dark and light.
The short salon pieces from 1909 and 1912 are generally light and unremarkable. There's a sweetly tender "Doux reve" of French color sandwiched between a genial "Valse" and jaunty "Danse rustique." More interesting is the "Danse" from op. 31, a mock-serious Russian folk dance with playful pizzicato and a rollicking tempo. However, I liked these two wistful pieces of somber Slavic melancholy: the pathos of "Melodie russe" (1925) and the nostalgic "Cantabile" of op. 31 (1909), essentially a mournful song for violin.
Violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova offers a nuanced and technically adroit reading of these works. However, her bright and brittle tone is frequently off-putting and doesn't align with the delicate French salon mood of these pieces. Recorded sound is fine.