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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano sonatas, Vol. 1
Sonata No. 8, Opus 84
Sonata No. 9, Opus 103
Toccata, Opus 11
Peter Dimitriew (piano)
Recorded June 2001, Moscow State Broadcasting and Recording House
ARTE NOVA 74321 85291 2 [57.57]


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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 canon.

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.

Terry Barfoot


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