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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Transcriptions by Sergei Prokofiev
Three pieces from the ballet Cinderella, Op. 95 (1942) [10:35]
Ten pieces from the ballet Cinderella, Op. 97 (1943) [18:56]
Six pieces from the ballet Cinderella, Op. 102 (1944) [20:40]
Symphony No. 1 Classical, Op.25 [14:28]
Temirzhan Yerzhanov (piano)
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, 20-21 May 2005
Experience Classicsonline

This is the second solo album from Temirzhan Yerzhanov. The first was focused on Schumann. Yerzhanov, currently London-based, was born in Kazakhstan and is apparently the first pianist from that country to reach the international stage. He did this after winning the First Prize and Gold Medal at the XI International Robert Schumann Piano Competition in Zwickau in 1993. The disc provides minimal documentation: one little page. Three-quarters of it is taken up with describing the career of the pianist. As for the rest Yerzhanov tells us about Prokofiev's stay in Kazakhstan during the World War II years.

The program is interesting: all three Cinderella suites transcribed by the composer, plus a transcription of the Classical Symphony, also made by Prokofiev himself. The Symphony transcription, astonishingly, was never recorded before - at least, so the notes say - though the Gavotte is programmed occasionally. Certainly we can't blame the quality of the transcription: it is lively and exciting, and adequately presents the character of the symphony. Comparing it to the two-piano transcription made by Terashima and played by Argerich and Bronfman on the Lugano Festival collection (EMI), I cannot say that two additional hands really bring a new dimension; it's all there already in the two-hands version, which in my opinion deserves a better circulation.

The Suites flow naturally one after the other: the solemn Op.95, then the divertimento-like Op.97, and finally the gorgeous Op. 102 with its two heavenly waltzes and the concluding Amoroso. My guess is that the suites were conceived in this succession from the very start, as a set: otherwise, why would Prokofiev leave out the "big tunes" for so long? It is not easy to find the complete suites on disc. For example, Olli Mustonen (Ondine) omits one piece from Op.97 and three (out of six) from Op.102.

Regarding the performance itself: sure enough, Yerzhanov certainly ranks as a virtuoso. He conveys the air of effortlessness throughout. Every note is clear and distinctive, not a single sound is "swallowed", and all voices are heard crystal clear. A person with good ears could probably restore the score from this recording. However qualities that would probably do well in Mozart - and I definitely would love to hear Yerzhanov play Mozart - does not seem to work everywhere in Prokofiev. The result is not as charming as it could and should be. O waltz, where is thy wave? O clock, where is thy menace? All looks even and flattened out - and what is Prokofiev without contrast?

Maybe it's the fault of the transcription, which is rather business-like in places, but I feel that the magic has gone. The fragrance of the orchestral score, the breath, the enchantment, the expectation of the fairy-tale, like in the "Nutcracker" when the tree starts to grow ... The recording is clear, the dynamic range is not wide, and you are constantly aware of the existence of those little hammers that bang-bang-bang on the strings inside the wooden box. After listening to Yerzhanov's disc, I put on Argerich and Pletnev performing Pletnev's two-piano "Cinderella" transcription (on DG) - and yes, it can be done with piano sound. And then I put on the Volodos disc on Sony. There he only does the Gavotte, Orientalia and Waltz, from the same source … and yes, these transcriptions can breathe. There is dark matter in "Cinderella", it's not all whipped cream. Still, the more "spark and glimmer" parts, as is the case with almost all of the Op.97 Suite, are served perfectly well. The opening Pavane (Op.95 No.1) is also very atmospheric, but somewhere in the middle of the ensuing Gavotte the nuances just disappear.

Predictably, the Classical Symphony fares much better under this approach: it is as quick and sparkling as one could wish. All rolls wonderfully for three and a half parts - until, in the middle of the Finale, the choo-choo train unexpectedly slows down quite noticeably, and continues like that for some time, gradually returning to the first tempo. I can't compare this to other interpretations due to their apparent absence, but I never heard such a thing in orchestral versions. It sounds as if if the pianist slowed down on a difficult segment, and then, returning to the more familiar ground, accelerated back. Argerich and Bronfman maintain the same tempo throughout the part. I can't be sure the tempo mark is not in the score, but it was rather disturbing to hear, and spoilt the enjoyment of an otherwise fine performance.

All in all, an excellent program - and not available elsewhere - but it looks as if the pianist decided to cut the romanticism out of music which is inherently romantic. This low-cholesterol style suits only part of the program - especially the Op.97 Suite and the Classical Symphony.

Oleg Ledeniov




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