Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sergei Prokofiev - Complete Piano Sonatas

Boris Berman, pianist
1998; 30 tracks (3 discs)

Sergei Prokofiev was a highly influential Russian composer from the early 20th century. He was a sort of contemporary to young Dmitri Shostakovich, and a very respected composer, pianist, and conductor. He is different from many other "Soviet" composers in that he traveled abroad to both America and Europe, where he was greeted with both success and disdain (experimentalism was still... experimental). He composed 9 complete piano sonatas, the 10th being unfinished. This recording includes 1-9, with both the original and revised versions of the 5th, and the fragment of the 10th which was actually composed.

Piano Sonatas 6-8 are often called the composer's "War Sonatas," composed in the later 1930s soon after his return to the Soviet Union. It is said that, after composing so much music in the vein of Stalin's make-believed paradise of a Socialist Russia, these 3 Sonatas contain the composer's "true feelings" (whatever those may be). In any case, I think the 8th is my favorite in terms of power and beauty.

Boris Berman is a Russian pianist who has recorded the entire piano works of Prokofiev. He played the first Russian performances of works by composers such as Stockhausen and Ligeti, and has also worked with Alfred Schnittke (I love you).

"In these works we find all the peculiarities of Prokofiev: the percussive and barbaric rudeness of the first period, the synthesis of virtuosity, choreographic spirit and neoclassicism of the intermediary period and the tragic expressiveness of the last sonatas, sometimes transfigured in episodes of intense lyricism; everything is built always with a recognizable style, offering a complete synthesis of the art of Prokofiev. The interpretation of Boris Berman is very valid, idiomatic, and it respects the spirit of the composer adequately."

Interesting information on the 9th Sonata:

"The Ninth Sonata was completed in 1947 when the dark clouds of official displeasure were looming. The Sonata was dedicated to Sviatoslav Richter and although frequently performed by its dedicatee it has never been a popular work. The music is immediately appealing with a lyrical melody that becomes playful. The charming aspect of the sonata is maintained throughout the sonata, particularly in the short Allegro movement, which is followed by tranquil slow movement punctuated with playful phrases; the sonata closes with a charming finale. What Prokofiev was able to complete of the Tenth Sonata, just two pages of music, is interesting for what might have been. This is a very rewarding set that anyone who loves Prokofiev's music will not want to be without."

The first disc includes Piano Sonatas 1-4; the second is Piano Sonatas 5-7, and the third includes Piano Sonatas 8-10.

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3


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