The insert details and CD cover tell us that this is the first
of a projected cycle of Prokofiev's piano sonatas. As such the compilation
is interesting, since it starts at the end rather than the beginning.
There is no great problem in that, of course, since Prokofiev of all composers
found his muse and his technique early on in his piano music, and all
nine sonatas are well worth hearing. There are no inferior works in this
The final Sonata, the Ninth, is among the least known
of Prokofiev's piano pieces. It is not hard to understand why, since
the music is more self effacing than many other sonatas, but holds details
which are worth the search. The dedicatee was Sviatoslav Richter, whose
own view was that the work was 'free of external effects' and contained
'not immediately recognisable treasures'. In other words, this is a
subtle product of the composer's last creative phase, contemporary with
his symphonic masterpiece, the Symphony No. 6. The style is relatively
reticent in comparison with the heroic, transcendentally challenging
sonatas which preceded it.
Dimitriew clearly understands these things and there
is method in his decision to record this work for the first release
in his projected cycle. As ever the Arte Nova engineers serve the cause
well, and the accompanying documentation, while not substantial, is
more than adequate.
The Sonata No. 8 is technically more challenging than
its successor. Clearly Dimitriew would not be recording this music were
he not up to the task, and he does undoubtedly acquit himself well.
Whether his performance is a real match for Ashkenazy, whose Decca recording
is the benchmark in this repertoire, is another matter. For the latter
seems to bring rather more personality to the music.
Dimitriew adds a bonus item from the first phase of
Prokofiev's career, the Toccata, Opus 11. This dates from the years
when he made his living more from performing than from composing, and
the Toccata is a rhythmic tour-de-force, a challenge of dexterity and
rhythmic attack which remains as fresh and exciting today as it must
have sounded when it was new. Both recording and performance capture
this spirit, helping making this disc a worthwhile and valuable addition
to the catalogue.