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Glyn Pursglove,
MusicWeb International, August 2006

Khandoshkin isn’t quite such an unknown figure as is implied in the presentation of this CD – which carries the title ‘Virtuoso Violin Music at the Court of Catherine the Great’. He was the subject of a substantial book by Anne Mischakoff – Khandoshkin and the Beginning of Russian String Music (UMI Research Press) – published in 1983. That Mischakoff is presumably identical with the Anne Mischakoff Heiles who contributes the valuable booklet notes here. The three sonatas for unaccompanied violin were recorded by Alexander Chernov in 1994 and issued on Etcetera; a recording I haven’t heard. Still, it is true enough that his music hasn’t attracted the attention it probably deserves.

It is of interest for at least two reasons. The first is historical. Khandoshkin was perhaps the first native Russian violinist-composer to become a ‘star’ at a Russian court dominated by diasporic Italian masters, with one of whom, Tito Porta, Khandoshkin had studied. These three sonatas appear to be the only examples of the genre to have been written in Russia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A second, more important, reason for taking an interest in Khandoshkin’s music is that some of it is really rather good.

The three unaccompanied sonatas can be thought of, stylistically, as belatedly baroque in some ways, but more obviously as anticipations of Paganini. This area of Khandhoskin’s work belongs in a line that runs through J.S. Bach and Biber, and such figures as Tartini, Gavinié and Locatelli on its way to Paganini. There is little, to my ears, which is distinctively Russian in these sonatas - though the closing andante of the first sonata takes the form of variations on a Russian song and the last movement of the second sonata is apparently based on a Russian dance known as the khrovod. This is very colourful music, full of appoggiaturas, dotted rhythms, double and quadruple stoppings, insistent ostinatos, rapid scales, oddly proportioned phrases and unexpected harmonic leaps. There is a rather cold feeling to much of the music, more marked by glitter and virtuosity than by any great emotional or intellectual depths. But that is not to say more than that the sonatas, unsurprisingly, are not quite Bach; but they are interesting, challenging, intriguing works, and are given highly assured performances at the hands of Anastasia Khitruck, born in Moscow but largely trained in the U.S.A.

The Six Old Russian Songs are built on simple traditional melodies, richly ornamented by Khandoshkin. The dance rhythms of ‘Along the bridge’ affect an imitation of the balalaika at one point. ‘Is this my fate?’ is the melody used by Beethoven in the Razumovsky quartets. ‘Once I was a Young man’ is treated by Khandoshkin with a particularly fertile inventiveness and ‘Little dove why do you sit so sadly’ has something of that melancholy conventionally attributed to the Russian sensibility.

Anastasia Khitruk’s performance, throughout, is exemplary. Her technical command is very impressive and she brings great energy to the task; insofar as Khandoshkin’s music allows it, her playing is also marked by its emotional sensitivity.

A very worthwhile and enjoyable disc, even if it plumbs no great depths. Khitruk is surely a violinist of whom we shall hear much more.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, August 2006

Khandoshkin usually receives a respectful paragraph in standard violin histories. As the first Russian violinist-composer in St Petersburg’s Imperial Court he gave native musicians the hope that they too could rise to eminence in a field dominated by Italian and French imports. His high technical skill and obvious mastery of certain techniques – rather paraded in his solo violin works – gained him renown, though it’s clear from the Italianate slant of his compositions that he had absorbed many pertinent lessons from such as Tartini.

And yet one must also look to C.P.E. Bach, as the notes suggest, for a wider appreciation of the influences he took and processed; also, I would suggest, J.S. Bach as well. In the G minor solo sonata the level of accomplishment is decidedly high and the technical demands incessant. He was particularly fond of arpeggiated writing which, accompanied by a battery of ostinati and quadruple stopping (unnecessarily complicated one would have thought unless it was to parade his own command), gives the sonata a dramatic and tensile quality. The quality one is left with, above these and other features, is however the ornamental one. He was over-fond of decorative curlicues that give the music a rather frivolously clotted feel; mitigated it’s true by his quixotic theme lengths. The up and down staccati of the finale are more decorative than solidly musical, even though they must have aroused considerable enthusiasm at court.

The E flat major sonata is less of a show-piece, though the decorative writing is again a constant feature. The most consistently impressive of the movements is the finale with its bluntly accented rhythms, which generate a fine Russian dance drive. In the Minuet of the D major we find a rather vocalised kind of melodic line, very attractive, and some fine noble phrasing amidst the virtuosic flair that informs it. He certainly had a flair for dramatic characterisation as the finale of this sonata demonstrates. Soloist Anastasia Khitruk varies her dynamics here to fine effect.

For the Six Old Russian Songs she is joined in the first by the viola and for the remainder by the cello. They’re strongly tinged by folk influence and are simple in melodic outline. As ever Khandoshkin gives vent to his penchant for over-decorative gilding but the ebullience and feeling can’t be denied. I was most taken by the melancholy of the third song Little dove why do you sit so sadly? which brings out the best in the composer, forcing him to limit excessive ornamentation.

The performances are excellent. Khitruk has the measure of this demanding music and plays it with panache.

David Vernier, July 2006

Most listeners will never have heard the name Ivan Khandoshkin (1747-1804), but violinist Anastasia Khitruk has admirably undertaken to bring this little-known solo-violin repertoire to wider attention. Published in the early years of the 19th century, Khandoshkin's Op. 3 sonatas show the influences we might expect, given the composer's exposure to a court musical environment that included musicians from Italy, Germany, and France. As court soloist and Kapellmeister for Catherine the Great Khandoshkin apparently was a highly regarded and accomplished performer--and as these compositions show, he also was very adept at creating works that seem perfectly designed for the purpose of entertaining his audience.

While the famed solo violin works of Bach are formally sophisticated, technically complex, and artistically profound, Khandoshkin's efforts, while quite substantial (the longest is nearly 20 minutes) and far from fluff, are mostly functional vehicles for virtuoso display--and virtuoso they are, demanding the most advanced fingering (double-, triple-, and quadruple-stops) and bowing techniques (detached staccato, louré, sautillé/spiccato, and leaping arpeggio effects) as well as a comprehensive sense of the composer's style and expressive intent.

Khitruk is a remarkable artist, not only giving sure-footed life and uninhibited flair to these rigorous, relentlessly showy pieces, but also taking care to articulate the contrapuntal textures and expressive/dramatic elements that run through each work from beginning to end. The Six Old Russian Songs are less successful, inhibited both by the songs' melodic constraints and the composer's imagination, but also marred by a bass line (played here by cellist Kyrill Yevtushenko) that's overly prominent and pedestrian. Nevertheless, violin aficionados will be very interested in hearing these pieces, and anyone who appreciates dynamic, virtuoso instrumental playing of any kind will enjoy Khitruk's flashy, fiery style and impeccable technique. Outstanding!

David Vernier, July 2006

John Terauds
Toronto Star, June 2006

Anyone who saw the Catherine the Great show at the Art Gallery of Ontario last year knows that the 18th-century Russian monarch liked everything big, ornate and conceptually simple. The same applied to music such as this collection of the violin sonatas and six arrangements of Russian folk songs by her Kapellmeister Ivan Yevstafyevich Khandoshkin (1747-1804). The three sonatas offer finger and bowing gymnastics for unaccompanied violin. Young Russian émigré Anastasia Khitruk does a fabulous job of capturing the music’s spirit. But the piees are all written in a similar style, which wears thin.

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