> Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Scriabin: Sultanov [CC]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat, Op. 83
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Piano Sonata No. 5 in F sharp, Op. 53
Alexei Sultanov (piano).
Recorded at the Teldec Studio, Berlin in November 1990 (Prokofiev, Scriabin) and February 1992 (Rachmaninov). [DDD]
WARNER APEX 0927-40830-2 [54’23]


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Alexei Sultanov was winner of the Eighth Van Cliburn Competition. He hales from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. These recordings of Russian piano sonatas originally appeared on Teldec (2292-46011-2) and show much of the youthful impetuosity one would associate with someone on the cusp of his career and still riding on a major win. His coupling of Tchaikovsky First and Rachmaninov Second Concertos has similarly reappeared on Apex, 0927-40835-2.

Sultanov has a big sound, but it has not been captured too well by the Teldec team of Friedemann Engelbrecht (Producer) and Eberhard Sengpiel (Engineer): there is a lack of body in the recording which is singularly inappropriate to the big-boned Rachmaninov Second Sonata. The piano playing itself is very Russian, with less use of the sustaining pedal than one would normally expect from a Western player and with an exemplary finger technique (runs and figuration tend towards the perfectly even). There is, however, a relentless streak which surfaces from time to time in the first movement which is disturbing and which mercifully does not recur in the second movement (Sultanov is really quite fantastical in places here). The finale leaves the listener in no doubt as to the technical command, but it is not the edge of the seat experience provided by some and where subtlety is called for it is missing entirely. For a recent (live) account that comes much closer to the heart of this marvellous piece, try Lang Lang on Telarc CD-80524 (from the Seiji Ozawa Hall in Tanglewood: see my review).

The Prokofiev is frankly underwhelming. Sultanov lacks the ability to think structurally, so the whole becomes episodic and diffuse. The occasional affecting lightnesses of touch and the flowing Andante caloroso do not make up for this; in addition, the finale is, one might say, dancing rather than urgent (or simply underpowered, depending on your viewpoint). Certainly a sonata which under Pollini’s hands becomes a truly exciting and gripping experience here comes across as nothing really special. Indeed, Pollini remains the yardstick here and his DG Originals disc of Prokofiev, Webern, Stravinsky and Boulez contains some of the most amazing recorded pianism of the last century (447 431-2).

Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata is actually the work in which he first introduced his ‘Mystic Chord’. Indeed, it does seem to breathe a rarified atmosphere that Sultanov only partially projects. Some passages seem decidedly on the careful side where a sense of abandon and exhilaration are clearly intended by the composer. Here the recommendation goes to Sviatoslav Richter on Dokumente 423 573-2.

Really this disc is only recommendable if you are searching for this particular coupling. Otherwise, there are plenty of better alternatives for each of the three works.

Colin Clarke


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