Prokofiev’s Haunting First Violin Sonata

“Wind passing through a graveyard…” This is how Sergei Prokofiev described the hauntingly ethereal passage at the end of the first movement of the Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor. Hushed, wispy scales rise and fall in the violin over a series of numb, ambivalent piano chords. This chilly passage, which is anything but definitive or conclusive, returns later in the final movement. It encapsulates the atmosphere of the Sonata, perhaps the darkest, most …

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Vitali’s Chaconne: Five Classic Recordings

The origin of the famous Chaconne in G minor, attributed to Italian baroque composer Tomaso Antonio Vitali (1663-1745), remains something of an enigma. The score was discovered and published by the German violinist Ferdinand David in 1867. David premiered Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and his version of the Chaconne includes a quote of the Concerto in the piano accompaniment. There was speculation that David wrote the Chaconne, mainly because its far-reaching harmonic modulations seem so foreign to the baroque language …

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Oistrakh Plays Brahms

Here is a soulful performance of Johannes Brahms’ final violin sonata, the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108. This classic live concert performance was taken from a March 18, 1970 recital at New York’s Alice Tully Hall featuring the legendary Soviet violinist David Oistrakh and pianist Sviatoslav Richter. The audio quality is less than perfect and the camera angle frequently provides the page turner’s perspective. Yet Oistrakh’s sumptuous, golden tone and noble …

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Oistrakh and Khachaturian: Beyond the Sabre Dance

When you think of twentieth century Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978), what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Probably, the frenetic Sabre Dance, once called “one of the catchiest, most familiar—perhaps most maddening—tunes to come out of the 20th century.” Khachaturian wrote the Sabre Dance for the final act of the 1942 ballet, Gayane. It quickly, perhaps surprisingly, made the jump into the world of popular music, covered by everyone from Woody Herman and James Galway to Vanessa-Mae. …

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The Brahms Violin Concerto: 8 Great Recordings

Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 stands with Beethoven’s Concerto at the pinnacle of the violin repertoire. No concerto unleashes the soaring, heroic power and poetic potential of the violin more profoundly than Brahms’. It’s music that runs the gamut between smoldering ferocity and tranquil introspection, encompassing a universe of expression. Brahms’ forty-plus year friendship and musical partnership with the German violinist and composer Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) was central to the …

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Remembering Lydia Mordkovitch

Russian-born violinist Lydia Mordkovitch passed away earlier in the week. She was a student of David Oistrakh and served as his assistant in the late 1960s. In this interview she talks about her Russian musical roots and the influence of Oistrakh’s teaching. Mordkovitch emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1980. In 1995 she joined the faculty of the Royal Academy of Music. Her extensive discography on the Chandos label includes music of English composers …

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Oleh Krysa Plays Solo Bach

A few days ago, I was excited to run across this rare, old recording of J.S. Bach’s Sonata No. 1 for solo violin, performed by my former teacher, Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa. A student of David Oistrakh, Krysa currently teaches at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He was awarded first prize at the 1963 Paganini Competition. Between 1977 and 1990, he served as first violinist of the Beethoven Quartet, …

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