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Vladimir Sofronitsky (piano)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Arabesque Op.18
Carnaval Op.9
Des Abends Op.12 No.1
Kreisleriana Op.16
Vladimir Sofronitsky (piano)
Recorded 1952 (Arabesque, Kreisleriana) and 1959 (Des Abends, Carnaval)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00024 [66.14]


Denon and Arlecchino have both issued a series of Sofronitsky re-releases; the former in generally better transfers but without English notes, was issued in Japan. I believe the Denon series ran to thirteen or so volumes, releasing 17 CDs in all, mostly presumably derived from Melodiya LP source material. The Russian company Vista Vera has now embarked on its own Sofronitsky programme.

An individualist of powerful personality Sofronitsky’s last, live recordings – he preferred them to studio ones - have generally been shrouded in rumour as to his state of health. His early death has been ascribed to alcoholism but arrhythmia has been convincingly advanced as a reason for his increasing debilitation during those final years. Certainly these Schumann performances enshrine uneven musicianship which at its best rises to exceptionally eloquent heights but which can also rely on less immediately appealing characteristics. In Carnaval for instance he takes time – understandably – to warm up but also indulges in some precipitous voicings and some harsh accents (in Préambule), quixotic tempo acceleration (Pierrot) and heavy handed phrasing (Coquette). This is the kind of performance to be judged on its own terms and reference to say, Rachmaninov’s or Myra Hess’s legendary recordings is best put to one side. Sofronitsky is aptly full of vigour and incisive rhythm in Lettres dansantes (though his speed here is relatively sedate) but does tend to make a bit of a meal of the rubato, voicings and dichotomy between rough rhythm and legato in Estrella.

Kreisleriana amplifies these occasional extremes of response. In places he’s quite expansive, and he tends to prefer relaxed nobility of rhythm to say, Horowitz’s sense of momentum. That said his gravity and weighted chords in the fourth of the pieces (Sehr Langsam) is undeniably affecting and taken at a convincing tempo. Arabesque is also fine and an attractive reading.

Uneven yes but unsettlingly human and with a technique still able to cope with most demands, Sofronitsky remains one of the troubling giants of post-War pianism.

Jonathan Woolf

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