The world is discovering the vast corpus of music left behind by Ukrainian composer Nikolai Roslavets, formerly relegated to the status of a non-person by the former Soviet Union. Despite the spotty looking coverage indicated by the titles involved, Naxos'Roslavets: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1, 4 and 6 is a comprehensive survey of his violin and piano music as we know it. Roslavets' Third and Fifth violin sonatas are apparently nowhere to be found, and his Second survives in an incomplete score that is under editorial scrutiny and, according to these notes, is not yet available, even though violinist Mark Lubotsky recorded it in 1995. By adding the Three Dances of 1924, young Ukrainian violinist Solomia Soroka and pianist Arthur Greene provide a good encore to this program and bring up the time of this Naxos disc close to 70 minutes.
The best piece included is the earliest, Roslavets Sonata No. 1. Dating from 1913, this sonata makes obvious what Roslavets gained from his preoccupation with the music of Alexander Scriabin and looks forward to the more advanced "synthetic chord" works upon which his reputation rests. The Three Dances date from 1924, just as Roslavets' work began to receive a great deal of governmental scrutiny owing to its bourgeois use of formalistic techniques. Bourgeois or not, these short pieces are very effective examples of his inventiveness, sounding uncannily like Arnold Schoenberg's earliest twelve-tone compositions in the first two dances and evoking a nose-thumbing, confrontational attitude in the last. Sonata No. 4 (1920) is superficially similar to the first sonata, except that it is less memorable and compelling, and Sonata No. 6 (1940) is strangely sweet and lyrical, though retains some vestige of the dark otherworldliness of the other two violin sonatas. It puts the question to reports that there is no musical value to be found in Roslavets' work after 1927.
Soroka has well studied this music and imbues it with a degree of musical depth and warmth that it might not have had it been hastily prepared by a big name soloist primarily for purposes of recording. However, the sound of the violin is somewhat nasal, metallic, and is mixed a bit below the level of the piano, which does prove a barrier to fully enjoying both the music and these performances. Pianist Arthur Greene does a good job of getting Roslavets' challenging, unidiomatic piano parts underneath his fingers, although the piano he is using sounds like it has seen better days. It seems as though Naxos' recording is a little out-of-phase, as well, in addition to being somewhat shrill, but this should not serve as a deterrent to those who are devoted to the cause of Roslavets.
- Uncle Dave Lewis (All Music Guide)