Leonid Kogan

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Leonid Kogan was one of the outstanding violinst of the last century. There is a wide selection of composers and periods presented in this recital recorded in Bordeaux in 1964 and all exhibit beautiful playing. This recital has never been published before. Kogan’s unique combination of musical, intellectual and technical gifts that make him the supreme interpreter of any chosen repertoire.

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LEONID KOGAN – The legendary Bordeaux Recital 1964

1-4. HÄNDEL: Violin Sonata in E Major, Op.1, No.15, HWV 370 [09:49]
5. BRAHMS: Scherzo in C minor from F.A.E. Sonata [05:55]
6-9. BACH: Sonata for Violin Solo No.3 in C Major, BWV 1005 [23:40]
10-15. FALLA: Suite populaire espagnole (arr. Kochanski) [13:22]
16. RAVEL: Tzigane [08:28]
17. DEBUSSY: Beau soir (arr. Heifetz) [02:24]
18. SARASATE: Zapateado, Op.23/2 [05:49]

Recorded · 25 May 1964 · Bordeaux · Grand Théâtre · Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française · Live Recording

Leonid Kogan · violin
Naum Walter · piano

Additional Information

Article number: MC 2012
Release date: 02 May 2014
UPC barcode: 0791154050347
Total time: 69:31

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Abraham Pisarek and Boris Lipnitzki
With special thanks to Christof Honecker
From the Original Masters · © 2014 Meloclassic

Leonid Borisovitch Kogan was born in the Ukrainian city of Dniepropetrovsk in 14 November 1924. His father, a photographer by trade and a music lover by inclination, began to teach the boy to play the violin when he was seven. Three years later he moved the family to Moscow so that Kogan could have the best teachers available, where Kogan became a pupil of Abram Ilich Yampolsky (1890-1956), who studied with Sergej Korguyev, a pupil and assistant of Leopold Auer. Kogan studied first at the Central Music School in Moscow, then at the Moscow Conservatory (1943-1948) and as a postgraduate (1948-1951). Jacques Thibaud heard the young violinist play in Moscow in 1937. He was struck by the rich talent of the twelve-year-old boy and predicted a great future for him.

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After 1941, his carrier as a performer was started. He became well known after his playing of Brahms’s Concerto at The Concert Great Hall of Moskow Concervatory, he toured throughout all the USSR while still a student. Despite his prodigious success in concert, he was spared from the exploitation as a child prodigy by his parents. In 1947, he was co-winner of the first prize at the World festival of Democratic Youth in Prague. He was graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1948 and was given the post of assistant to his teacher Yampolsky, and then taught his own classes. He combined his teaching with extensive concert work both in the Soviet Union and abroad.

In 1951, Thibaud, pleased at his foresight, was a member of the jury with Arthur Grumiaux, David Oistrakh, Mario Corti, Marcel Cuvelier, Alfred Pochon, Oskar Back, Philip Newman and Carlo Van Neste that awarded Kogan first prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels. Kogan had played only the first few bars of the trial piece, when one of his fellow competitor turned to another saying. “Who do you think will win the second prize?” From this events, he was counted among the world’s most outstanding violinists of his time and, together with David Oistrakh, the best representative of the Russian School of violin-playing, although perceived in the shadow of the older and more famous David Oistrakh.

He toured extensively in Europa, making his debuts in Paris and in London in 1955. In Canada, he refused to be drawn out on differences between Canadian and Russian audiences: “I don’t like comparisons.” he declared to interviewers through the non-musical interpreters attached to his tour. A questioner asked him if he would like to stay in Canada. Kogan, who had his wife and a 2 years old back in Moscow replied: “Such a question makes me smile. It takes only a month and I’m homesick”. In 1956 he played his first concert in South America and he made his American debut organised by the impresario Sol Hurok with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Monteux on 10 January 1958 performing Brahms’s violin concerto. Hurok negotiated in long distance calls to the Soviet Ministry of Culture. Final arrangements were made through the Soviet Embassy in Washington. A record reached the market with Kogan’s first American made recording of Khachaturian’s violin concerto and Saint-Saëns’s Havanaise again with the Boston, Monteux conducting. He said after arriving at Idlewild Airport in NYC: “I am very glad to be here for the first time. I have very many friends among the American musicians and I am glad to be able to perform before American audiences.” During a concert in Italy in the early 1960s, just as Kogan launched into the real fireworks, a small black cat entered stage left, preened itself, and sauntered nonchalantly across the stage in full view of everyone, stopped and gazed uncomprehendingly around at Kogan and the audience, and exited majestically stage right!

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In 1965 the Soviet Union awarded him the Order of Lenin in recognition of his musical achievement. There were rumors that he worked for the KGB. Kogan often boasted the Soviet Union had financed his entire training and even gave him the 1730 Stradivarius he was playing. Although he was compromised by the Soviet System and was forced to say things he did not intend to say. The same was true incidentally in practically every other sphere of activity. Many actors, musicians, sportsmen, scientists, when travelling abroad, were invariably accompanied by KGB agents. It is well known that the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) once asked, if only in a jest, Leonid Kogan, the great Russian violinist, “Well, Leonid, where are you hiding your KGB uniform? Are you a colonel already?”

The violinist Nathan Milstein illustrated in his memoirs when he came to the defence of his brilliant colleague, Leonid Kogan: “I was aware that many people did not like him. Once there was even a protest demonstration against him, because of rumours that he was involved with the KGB. I don’t quite understand why Kogan was singled out. I’ve read the memoirs of Soviet intelligence officer Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, who wrote that all members of Soviet delegations to the West, whether scientists, musicians, or ballerinas, are obligated to report to the government on everything they see and hear. For instance, they’re asked, “Well, you met with Rothschild, what did he says, what does he think?” And so on. Kogan was not an exception in that regard. I always wondered why the Soviets make their artists report on their contacts with the West. I mean, what useful information could a Kogan bring back? I once asked Isaac Stern whether the CIA or FBI invited him in for a chat after his trip to the Soviet Union. He said no. There are professionals for spying. But under the Soviet system, every citizen is made to engage in espionage, to humiliating and inefficient effect.”

In 1969 Kogan cancelled a performance with the Pittsburgh Orchestra because a Russian defector was a member of the orchestra. The orchestra refused to identify their musicians by name but said he was a cellist who came to the orchestra about 18 month ago from the Moscow State Orchestra.

Kogan was married to Yelizaveta Gilels (1919–2008), a sister of Emil Gilels, also a concert violinist. And it wasn’t until after the War that he formed a duo with her – their Bach Double Concerto was famous – and they managed to find and perform some more out-of-the-way pieces, as well as works dedicated to them such as the Weinberg sonata. With Gilels and Rostropovich, Kogan had explored the Trio repertory with great success. Kogan was the first soviet violinist to play and record in Soviet Union Berg’s Violin Concerto. Among works dedicated to him are concertos by Knipper, Krennibov, Karayev and Bunin, the concerto-Rhapsody by Khachaturian and Sonatas by Levitin and Vainberg.

Kogan died prematurely on 17 November 1982, in a train heading from Russia to Austria, at the Mytischa railway station. He was only 58 years old and buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. His death had inspired much sinister speculation including that the KGB poisoned him.

Kogan was gifted in a variety of areas, and could have been an engineer. He knew much about cars and could do a lot of car maintenance himself, and give advice to anyone thinking about buying a car. His life was dominated by the violin and the demands of his career. They say that Kogan was a shy but very kindly man and that it was impossible not to like him, that he was absolutely dedicated and, arriving home after a gruelling day’s work, would open his violin case again and practice for another half hour.

© Michael Waiblinger 2014

MusicWeb International Classical Review August 2014

Published in August 2014

In the years following Leonid Kogan’s early death Melodiya put out a big series of gatefold double LPs tracing live concert performances given in Moscow. I bought as many as I could, which was useful because he was never strongly represented in the burgeoning CD catalogue of the late 1980s. Of late things have changed for the better with EMI, Testament and Brilliant just three of the labels to have devoted releases documenting his art. Melodiya has recently begun to step up production too, and now Meloclassic presents its own tribute in the form of a single concert performance given in Bordeaux in May 1964, in excellent sound.

His sonata partner was Naum Walter, with whom he recorded frequently and the repertoire is very much standard Kogan; Handel, Brahms, Bach, Falla, Ravel, Debussy, and Sarasate. There are none of his more exploratory Soviet works, but the French works play well to the audience’s expectations. The Handel was a frequent concert-opener for Kogan. Those who have seen the EMI Classics DVD of the violinist will recall that there is a performance of it with Andrei Mytnik (not Walter) given in London in March 1962. As an aside there is also the filmed Debussy Beau Soir and – with Walter in Paris in 1968 – the Falla. So all these works were very much tried and tested favourites.

His Handel is played with refined purity, subtly deploying greater dynamic variance in the Allegrosecond movement, and infinitesimally stretching phrases to avoid repetitiousness of material. TheLargo is generously expressive without any cheap gestures. For some reason the Scherzo from the FAE sonata sounds a touch less ‘present’ – maybe he moved position slightly – though it hardly matters as he was a distinguished and never petulant Brahmsian and never one to push tempi for their own sake. His solo Bach stands at a remove from that of another player in this series, Christian Ferras, who is altogether a more vigorous and explosive practitioner. For Kogan in the C major sonata, rhythm, precision and an iron-clad control that never precludes phrasal breadth are the keynotes to his art. His Falla Suite populaire, in the famous Kochanski arrangement – if only Kochanski had recorded it – accords with his other performances that I’ve heard – evocative without being plush, and especially good in the introspective pieces, especially Asturiana. Tzigane is powerfully sculpted, with its applause cut off, but Zapateado gets a welcome burst of applause to end the recital, and the performance is suitably suave, dashing, and controlled.

Kogan left behind performances of all these works one way or another: the Handel and Brahms with Walter on Melodiya, the Bach on an obscure Janus-Pirouette LP; he didn’t record a complete studio cycle of the Sonatas and Partitas, Falla with Walter on Melodiya and Vogue, Ravel live with Mytnik on Melodiya from 1967, Debussy with Walter in 1961 on Melodiya, and the Sarasate with the same loyal pianist on Melodiya once again. You’ll be hard pressed to find all these performances in an easily assembled way, as here. Production values in this release are high. The first-ever release of this concert will make immediate claims on the Kogan admirer.

© Jonathan Woolf

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