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A tragically early death deprived concert stages of a significant and powerful violinist in Yulian Sitkovetsky, whom David Oistrakh considered a potentially greater figure than either himself or Leonid Kogan. As with Oistrakh, Yulian’s violin mastery was perpetuated by his son (Dmitry—also included in this volume), although his death precluded their working together.

His recordings reveal a muscular interpreter, in many ways typical of his time. He uses a broad, rich vibrato almost constantly, irrespective of compositional context. This thickness of tone is very different from his son’s playing which, apart from sounding more comfortable to modern ears, is somehow more consciously shaped. Yulian’s playing is, for the most part, a legato conception that predates the sculptured phrasing promoted by historically-informed performers, and yet is also a long way from the survival of such rhetorical ideas heard in recordings of players trained in the nineteenth century.

His Bach D minor Partita (1954) is thus rather outmoded, although full of interest and quality. One senses that it was really the Chaconne—by the 1950s a standard test of virtuosity—that gained his interpretative attention. Earlier movements are all rather stolid, including the weirdly regular opening with little in the way of phrase inflection. The Chaconne, whilst also rather slow, gains in gravitas and momentum with a broad, sweeping rhetoric that gives power and inevitability to the structure. Vibrato here is reserved, and a single gigantic musical idea is impressively constructed. Sitkovetsky’s approach to Mozart, epitomised here by the K. 378 Sonata (1952), is a little dry and steady, but this is rather more elegant and articulate playing, especially in the last movement.

It is in later music, of a conservative Romantic idiom, that Sitkovetsky shows his strengths. The first LP recording of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (1955), although a little heavy in tone for its mainly Classical lines, with some tonal harshness in the solo line of the slow movement, has great character even if the complex technical challenges of the first movement are not entirely met. Sitkovetsky’s more playful side is found in an exhilarating (but stylistically orthodox) rendition of Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins (c.1951–1955) with his wife Bella Davidovich, and the finale of a fine Glazunov Concerto (1952). The latter conveys exotic and bright touches of humour and colour in a light-hearted conclusion to an otherwise dark and brooding work, played with pleasing understatement and balancing richness with an objectivity that avoids the overly-maudlin approach one often hears. Ysaÿe’s Solo Sonata No. 6 (1951) is whimsical and flamboyant, Sitkovetsky showing impressive command of double-stops and knitting together a disparate work in a highly convincing manner. In more recent repertoire his Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 (recorded in concert, 1956) is a commanding performance, if perhaps lacking his son’s insight, Kogan’s steely accuracy, or Oistrakh’s warmth. The second and fourth movements are particularly effective, both fully exploiting the febrile qualities of this music. The finale is unusually fast-paced and, whilst perhaps a little too light and skittish in places, has a dance-like approach that suits it well.

Yulian’s death at the age of thirty-three is deeply regrettable, but a substantial discography and his son Dmitry’s career maintain the legacy of a remarkable family of musicians.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)

Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
BARSHAI, Rudolf: Tribute (A) (20-CD Box Set) ICA Classics
Chamber Music
SITKOVETSKY, Yulian: Art of Yulian Sitkovetsky (The), Vol. 1 Artek
Chamber Music, Instrumental
SITKOVETSKY, Yulian: Art of Yulian Sitkovetsky (The), Vol. 2 Artek
Instrumental, Chamber Music
SITKOVETSKY, Yulian: Art of Yulian Sitkovetsky (The), Vol. 3 Artek
SITKOVETSKY, Yulian: Art of Yulian Sitkovetsky (The), Vol. 4 Artek
Concerto, Chamber Music, Instrumental, Contemporary Instrumental
SITKOVETSKY, Yulian: Art of Yulian Sitkovetsky (The), Vol. 5 Artek

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