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Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonatas: Volume 3: Sonata No. 5 in C major Op.38 (1924); Sonata No. 6 in A minor Op.82 (1940); Sonata No.9 in C major Op.103 (1951)
Bernd Glemser (piano)
Rec. Lugano Concert Hall, Switzerland, March 1999. DDD
NAXOS 8.555030 [70.07]

This was the first time I had encountered Bernd Glemser, a pupil of the Russian, Vitaly Margulis. These Russian antecedents have given Glemser a repertoire including Rachmaninov, Liszt, Tausig and Prokofiev - composers of virtuoso Romantic school. He has won seventeen international competitions since 1981 and has become Germany’s youngest piano professor.

I have to admit to not knowing these Prokofiev sonatas well but I was captivated with his playing, although he does emphasise the lyrical and romantic side of this music more than the percussive and rhythmic.

In preparing this review I looked briefly at Murray McLachlan’s complete recording of the sonatas on Olympia also Barbara Nissman on Pierian and Peter Dimitriew on Arte Nova. I must say that Glemser is genuinely as interesting and perceptive as any of them and is recorded clearly and naturally which can’t always be said of McLachlan.

Much ink has been spilt on the subject of Prokofiev’s ‘War-time sonatas’ and his percussive use of the piano. Glemser is no wimp in the violent faster music (listen to the finale of Number Six) but his background and training enable him to play with a singing tone which is also important in these works. Listen to the expressive theme which acts as a second subject in the first movement of the Sixth Sonata and which makes a necessary contrast. This same sonata includes a Ravelian Waltz as its third movement which he also plays with much grace. The same can be said of the Allegro tranquillo opening of the Fifth Sonata.

But now an important gripe. How did it come about that Naxos have confused the order of the sonatas? Only on the back of the case, not inside the booklet, are we told that the presented order is, not unreasonably, Sonatas 5, 6 then 9 but the pieces are played in the order 5, 9 and then 6. This becomes obvious once you read Richard Whitehouse’s very descriptive booklet notes. To add to the confusion the given timings are correct. So track six for example does last 8.13 but it is not the third movement of the sixth sonata but the third of the ninth. There are probably many purchasers of this disc who will not read this who may well remain in ignorance. How come the producer and engineer Jochen Gottschall was not able to correct this before it was sent out.

As for the music I will add that the Fifth Sonata is a typical ’twenties work, classical, lyrical and elegant. It weighs in at just over a quarter of an hour. The wartime Sixth Sonata which is twice as long is an exciting and strong four movement work. The Ninth, which follows a similar format is a much neglected piece. It is beautiful and sensitive - even delicate at times, much liked by Richter, and yet has some lively and virtuoso moments, especially the fun fourth movement.

Gary Higginson



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