Les Introuvables de Nereffid
It’s a fun album of light music, in short, and one that deserves a wider audience than just the classical nerds who browse alphabetically through the Naxos display looking for curiosities…
Born in Moscow in 1937, Igor Frolov has enjoyed an international career as a solo violinist, having completed his studies in the class of David Oistrakh
Born in Moscow in 1937, Igor Frolov has enjoyed an international career as a solo violinist, having completed his studies in the class of David Oistrakh. It was Oistrakh who originally encouraged him to pursue a combined career as a composer, though he was already fifty-two before Frolov ventured into that field with a series of violin ‘encore’ pieces. Often looking towards virtuosity in the performer, they are lightweight scores, frequently using jazz as the influence. He has also arranged many works for violin and piano, Kern’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Scott Joplin’s The Easy Winners featured on this disc. The release concludes with an extensive and exceedingly attractive Concert Fantasy on themes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Between we have a mad virtuoso dash through an adaptation of a Kreisler study played at twice the original speed; an attractive Spanish Fantasy; the spicy Piece in Blues Style and a seductive adaptation of Love Song. Fourteen tracks in total that provide relaxing and pleasing music, superbly played by Nicolas Koeckert and Kristina Miller, a fabulous young partnership, Nicolas bristles with technique that makes light of Frolov’s demands, and Kristina is every bit as outstanding, sharing the honours in a perfectly weighted duo. I look forward with great anticipation to their further releases - they are very special. Sound quality from Bayerischer Rundfunk could not be improved upon.
Most of the Igor Alexandrovich Frolov pieces for violin and piano are arrangements of songs by American composers who were popular in the 1930s and 1940s. There are a couple of pieces by the Brazilian bossa nova-influenced composer Herminio de Almeida, a Spanish Fantasy, an arrangement of a Joplin rag, and an arrangement of a waltz by the Swedish composer Serge Gais. Also included are a chromatically-accompanied version of the Kreutzer Etude No.2 (misidentified as the Kreisler Etude No.1 in the notes) and a piece in blues style that Frolov wrote while he was on tour in the United States.
What I find remarkable about this recording, besides the fantastic violin playing by both Koeckerts and the excellent piano playing by Miller, is the amount of nostalgic passion that Frolov puts into his arrangements. He had to come by his American popular music in Russia by seeing foreign films and quickly writing down what he heard when he got home. Recordings of jazz were very hard to come by in the Soviet Union, and since he was born there in 1937, he had to work extremely hard to pursue his interest in American popular music.
I love his music for two violins. His arrangement for two violins and piano of Jerome Kern's 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes' is particularly gorgeous and exceptionally interesting, and his Scherzo-Souvenir, written for a competition in one of the music schools in Moscow, must have raised many eyebrows and might have even gotten a few kids in trouble. I can imagine young violinists sneaking off in a corner practice room to play it—kind of like sneaking cigarettes in the washroom.
The Divertissement for two violins from 1979 begins like an upside-down version of the Bach Concerto for Two Violins, but then it slips into a jazz dialog, alternating styles constantly between pseudo-baroque music and hot jazz. The Koeckerts play it tastefully with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, bringing to mind the good-natured musical humor of Jack Benny.
The most substantial piece on the recording (lengthwise, that is) is a great Concert Fantasy on themes from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess for violin and piano. It was written in 1991 in the 19th Century tradition of virtuoso opera fantasies, but it has harmonic material from the jazz corner of the 20th Century, and the tunes are by Gershwin. I can't help thinking how much Jascha Heifetz would have enjoyed playing this piece. I imagine that he would also love this recording. I certainly do.