Classical Reissue Reviews

Leonid Kogan, violin = BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D; KHACHATURIAN: Violin Concerto in D Minor – Leonid Kogan, v./Philharmonia Orch./ Kyril Kondrashin/ Boston Sym. Orch./ Pierre Monteux (Khachaturian) – Guild

Leonid Kogan’s patrician art finds ample representation in these two concertos, inscribed during his Western sojourn 1958-1959.

Published on October 21, 2012

Leonid Kogan, violin = BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D; KHACHATURIAN: Violin Concerto in D Minor – Leonid Kogan, v./Philharmonia Orch./ Kyril Kondrashin/ Boston Sym. Orch./ Pierre Monteux (Khachaturian) – Guild

Leonid Kogan, violin = BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77; KHACHATURIAN: Violin Concerto in D Minor – Leonid Kogan, v./Philharmonia Orch./ Kyril Kondrashin/ Boston Sym. Orch./ Pierre Monteux (Khachaturian) – Guild GHCD 2394, 71:12 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Of the legion of superb musicians out of Soviet Russia, Ukrainian violinist Leonid Kogan (1924-1982) remains notable for his immaculate skill and natural, patrician bearing and nobility of line. An unabashed admirer of Jascha Heifetz, Kogan consciously attempted to recreate that peerless master’s style, insisting on playing on all four steel strings.  While this approach did not yield particularly “flexible” results, the intense power of expression and brilliant resonance became as identifiable a trademark for Kogan as a burnished tone defined a Heifetz interpretation.

Guild resurrects two important historic inscriptions from Kogan: his Abbey Road  (22, 26 February 1959) performance of the Brahms Concerto with Kondrashin and his RCA (12-13 January 1958) performance of the Khachaturian Concerto, the work with which Kogan had made his American debut in Boston. Conductor Monteux himself had  been unfamiliar with the Khachaturian Concerto, having to learn the piece quickly but therefore communicating a degree of freshness – and exactness – that makes the collaboration singularly electric. The audio restoration by Peter Reynolds casts a particularly fine edge on the Brahms Concerto, a broadly sumptuous reading that achieves the colossal girth we associate with the Oistrakh-Klemperer and Milstein-Jochum readings. Kogan had made his Moscow debut in 1941 with the Brahms Concerto under Alexander Gauk; and when Soviet-American politics permitted a thaw for classical music in otherwise Cold War relations, Kogan recorded the work in London as part of his Western tours between 1955-1959.

Typical of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s period recordings – even given the untimely passing of French horn master Dennis Brain – the acuity and response of the string, wind, tympani, and brass sections proves eminently clear and rife with nuance. Kogan’s attacks, often rasping and driven, urge the musical line forward, yet his soft passages never want sympathy or natural, breathed phrasing. The orchestral tuttis prove as monumentally compelling as Kogan’s taut and sinewy contribution. The oboe contribution in the Adagio (Leon Goossens?) sails mellifluously, complementing Kogan’s ardent cantilena in marvelous harmony. The stinging gypsy Rondo compels our attention from the opening flurry, and the intensity only needs our audience to make the dramatic closure complete.

The 1940 Khachaturian Concerto, originally a showpiece designed with David Oistrakh in mind, serves the Kogan mystique equally well, his crisp and fervent playing slicing through the fast and exotic episodes with razor-sharp acuity, and his articulation of the espessivo sequences equally sweet as the propulsive aspects toss lightning. We need add few superlatives to recommend the BSO as an accompanying ensemble, the flute, clarinet, piccolo snare, and even tambourine elements held in perfect symmetry by the inimitable Monteux, the quintessential Gallic colorist. The distinctive Armenian color that infiltrates the first and last movements shines forth, and the second movement Andante sostenuto features Kogan’s pairing with clarinet and low winds in music that might have graced the Spartacus ballet. For a musical aristocrat’s visions of two concerto staples, you cannot ignore Leonid Kogan in these masterworks.

—Gary Lemco




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