The great Russian bear has disgorged another magnificent voice. To encounter Galina Gorchakova for the first time, as I did, in the intimate surroundings of Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall was a hair-raising experience nobody would be likely to forget. Her blazing soprano has conquered audiences in the opera-house and, though the recordings which followed – such as Mazeppa (DG, 1/94) and Prince Igor (Philips, 4/95) – have sometimes raised doubts, they are not enough to obscure the essential message: Gorchakova promises to be one of the vocal giants of her generation.
One tends to associate the virtuoso violin repertoire with the 19th century, but in their own way these five sonatas, written between 1714 and 1743, offer an equally dazzling display of speed, facility, bow control and tonal variety. No wonder: the composers were among the foremost violin virtuosos of their time, as well as tireless innovators of technique and style; several even wrote treatises on violin playing. The earliest, and least familiar, is Michele Mascitti, a Neapolitan who moved to Paris when he was 30. His "Psyché," the program's only piece in a major key, is a divertissement in ten short "tableaux" on the theme of Cupid and Psyche, with the violin and continuo as the two protagonists. Refined and elegant, varied in texture, expression and character, it ranges from tender love songs to slow and fast dances, including a wild Badinage.