If conspicuous consumption played a big part in CD-buying, I'd begin this recommendation with the pitch, "Be the first person on your block to own this new recording. It features sonatas and songs by a recently rediscovered Russian composer named Ivan Khandoshkin."
Khandoshkin is the discovery of a Russian-born violinist, Anastasia Khitruk. Khitruk came to the United States to study with renowned teacher Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School in Manhattan. While rummaging through stacks of little-known scores at a used music store in New York, she unearthed a piece by Ivan Khandoshkin. She'd never heard of him before.
At first she thought he must be a contemporary composer who hadn't yet become well-known. Further research identified Khandoshkin as the first Russian violinist-composer at the imperial court of St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great. As a court soloist and later kapellmeister for Catherine the Great, Khandoshkin was not only a virtuoso violinist but also an accomplished composer who knew how to write challenging, yet entertaining, music.
Anastasia Khitruk is the first to admit these are extremely difficult works. After purchasing the score for Khandoshkin's first violin sonata, she promptly put it on the shelf; she felt she wasn't ready for the challenge. A year later, while assembling a recital program of solo violin pieces, Khitruk decided to give the sonata another shot.
At the court of Catherine the Great, Khandoshkin was exposed to, and competed with, top violinists from across Europe, and this influence comes through in these rigorous sonatas. There is no fluff in these works.
Khandoshkin's sonatas require the most advanced fingering and bowing techniques, and Khitruk has no trouble meeting the demands. She sails through the double, triple and even quadruple stops in the final movement of Khandoshkin's Sonata No. 2, bringing his lush harmonies to the surface. At times, it sounds like a second violin has joined in.
Learning these pieces may have been arduous for Khitruk, but practice makes perfect; after performing them several times in concert, she has clearly mastered the sonatas.
Catherine the Great had a fancy for Russian songs and dances, which gave Khandoshkin an opportunity to showcase his unique cultural heritage in Six Old Russian Songs for Violin. Khandoshkin concentrates on the rich, melancholy lower register of the violin in this set of songs.
The first one, titled "Along the bridge, this bridge," is a lyrical, energetic duet between Khitruk and violist Dmitry Yakubovsky. It's reminiscent of a dance from old Vienna. The violin kicks up its heels in the final song, "Once I was a young man." You might mistake it for an Appalachian folk tune arrangement by fiddler Mark O'Connor. As the violin plays the jaunty melody, cellist Kyrill Yevtushenko provides a solid, yet bouncy bass line.
When Anastasia Khitruk started a series of concerts featuring works by Khandoshkin, she wasn't sure how the music would be received. She was surprised and pleased when the audience reaction told her it had universal appeal. Newcomers to classical music found it beautiful, and musical experts enjoyed discovering something new.
My guess is that this new CD will have you encouraging your neighbor to become the second person on your block to discover Ivan Khandoshkin.