Violinist-Composer Peter Hristoskov: A Retrospective

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HRISTOSKOV: 12 Capriccios for Solo Violin. Rhapsody for Violin No. 3, “Rural.” Violin Sonata.1 VLADIGEROV: Burlesque for Violin & Orchestra.2 CHAUSSON: Poème for Violin & Orchestra.3 BRAHMS: Violin Sonata No. 1.4 SCHUMANN: Märchenbilder.4 SZYMANOWSKI: 3 Myths: No. 1, The Fountain of Arethusa4 / Peter Hristokov, violinist; 1Vera Baeva, pianist; 2BNR Symphony Orchestra; 2Vassil Stefanov, conductor; 3Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra; 3Pierre-Michel Le Conte, conductor; 4Zlatka Arnaudova, pianist / Gega New GD 391/92

From the Gega New website:

It is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Peter Hristoskov (1917-2006) – a brilliant representative of the Bulgarian performing art and composition of the twentieth century. He began playing the violin at a very early age and with the first performances at stage showed that he had amazing qualities. For his development as a violinist a crucial role play his teachers, mainly Professor Sasha Popov, and later on, Professor Gustav Haweman (violin) and Professor Hans Malke (chamber music). He performed actively in Bulgaria and Europe as a soloist with symphony orchestras and as a chamber musician. His repertoire is very diverse – from the baroque to the music of the twentieth century, including works by Bulgarian composers. He performed all emblematic violin pieces, sonatas and concertos at his concerts. Parallel to his concert activity Peter Hristoskov devoted a significant part of his time to teaching. Since 1945 he taught at the Academy of Music in Sofia, and since 1950 he was professor. Many of his students are among the most famous violinists in Bulgaria and world-wide and are laureates of international competitions. Hristoskov himself was a respected member of several international violin competitions in Bulgaria, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, France, China.

His work as a composer is greatly significant, too. Hristoskov wrote over 40 opuses in the typical (for him) virtuoso performance style, based on Bulgarian folklore. Most of them are for violin – pieces, concertos, suites …, for cello – concertos and pieces, concertos for piano, orchestra, symphony, children’s album for violin, etc. His works are part of the repertoire of all prominent Bulgarian musicians and some of them are included in the repertoire of foreign performers.

I’m glad to have found this because the CD download I reviewed it from had no booklet and I had never heard of Hristoskov before. His 12 Capriccios for Solo Violin do indeed fulfill the promise of the above blurb: they are virtuosic and, based on Bulgarian folk music, sound very Eastern European. Think of Dinicu’s Hora Staccato as but one example, perhaps the most famous one, of this style of violin music. The harmony is modal, and Hristoskov constantly shifts it chromatically as each piece goes on. There are little trills throughout the score, all tossed off by Hristoskov with insouciant ease. Moreover, his sheer enthusiasm as a performer makes him great fun to listen to. He put me in mild of Gilles Apap of the Transylvanian Mountain Boys, only with more double stops and other technical flourishes thrown in for good measure. Of course I have no date of recording, but the sound is pretty good, albeit with a lot of “air” around the violin.

Hristoskov’s “Rural” Rhapsody and Violin Sonata are even more astringently modern in harmony than the Caprices. This music is almost vehement in its expression, with the composer’s violin hurling itself into the scores with dramatic exuberance. Indeed, the latter part of the Sonata is so wild—even frightening—that the audience (it’s a live performance) sounds almost too afraid to clap when it’s over. By contrast, the other unknown piece on this set, Pancho Vladigerov’s Burlesque for Violin & Orchestra is very kitschy piece, almost sounding like a 1940s movie idea of a violin concerto, and also poorly written. The music is messy and all over the place, but the performance is certainly enthusiastic.

The second CD is comprised of Hristoskov playing standard old-timey violin pieces. In these his work is about as good as any all-around violinist of his day and better than most. I was particularly impressed by his continuous forward momentum in the Brahms Sonata No. 1, a piece that is often played as if on autopilot. Hristoskov will have none of this; he digs into the music with complete engagement. I was surprised to hear him using a fair amount of portamento, stylistically correct for this music but often purged in our modern era. It is surely one of the finest performances of this sonata ever recorded by anyone.

Schumann’s Märchenbilder, though also a fine performance, suffers greatly from blowsy, ill-defined sound. Whoever engineered this recording for release certainly did not do a good job, for I was able to improve the sound by a fair degree by decreasing the bass by 1 db, increasing the treble by 3.4 db, and then doing noise removal through Goldwave. The movement from Szymanowski’s Mythes has much better sound, particularly for the violin, and is thus a good closer to this recital.

All in all, then, an interesting excursion into the musical style and compositional mind of a neglected Bulgarian violinist-composer. Well worth exploring.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter! @Artmusiclounge

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