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Jonathan Woolf
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Brilliant Classics

Vladimir Sofronitzky Edition

Vladimir Sofronitzky (piano)

rec. 1946-60

Detailed tracklisting below
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 8975 [9 CDs: 63:46 + 75:48 + 51:34 + 63:36 + 63:16 + 53:53 + 53:55 + 62:47 + 56:53]

Experience Classicsonline

Another month brings another Brilliant box. This time it’s the incendiary Sofronitzky, hero of many a piano connoisseur, who takes the honours in this nine disc set. It’s the kind of thing to which one listens avidly and rapt with admiration. That said his recorded legacy is something of a mess and any, at least partial, rationalisation is welcome even as we note that specialist labels – let’s take a recent Arbiter release as a most worthy example [Arbiter 157] - must also be considered. Japanese Denon issued a slew of records a good while ago and I’ve reviewed some Classical Records and Vista Veras here; Schumann, Schubert and Liszt , but it’s not an especially satisfactory state of affairs for so great a musician, and one too little known outside the ranks of dedicated pianophiles.

The first two discs are dedicated to the composer with whom the pianists is most closely identified; Scriabin. Though the 1946 sound is dim the playing in the Third Sonata is incendiary and incandescently rich, a microcosm of all that is so penetrating in his playing of the music of his father-in-law. The Second Sonata dates from the same year and suffers similar sonic limitations but it regrettably is a torso – only the andante remains. The music on disc two was recorded on 2 February 1960. Arbiter 157 has recently released for the first time a programme given by the pianist on Scriabin’s own piano in the same year and the repertoire is broadly similar. Both performances enshrine the core of what makes Sofronitzy’s playing of the composer so compelling – a volatile, malleable vision of prodigious intensity and density.

When we reach the Borodin Petite Suite we find playing of lighter but equally rich characterisation – limpid, gently noble and with no little grandeur. Brilliant’s rubric invariably suggests that all these performances are live but quite a few things here are not. Prokofiev’s Tales of an old Grandmother for instance derives from a commercial 78 and not all the Rachmaninoff selection is live either. This is an especially powerful selection however, with a powerful Moment Musical Op.16 No.3, some richly refined lyricism in the same opus’s No.5, and a subtly coloured and deftly rhythmic Etude-tableau Op.33 No.8. Of equal vivacity is the buoyant and delicious selection of Chopin Mazurkas and Waltzes, along with the considerable advantage of hearing the First Scherzo and the Third Ballade. This is not all the most straight backed of approaches – Sofronitzky was a definitely personalised Chopin player – but it is frequently of electric intensity and unignorably poetic, even when galvanized. The Op.28 Preludes are a case in point. No.2 is nagging and slow, almost obsessional; No.7 has plenty of idiosyncrasies but also a truly touching tristesse at its heart. No.9 has great gravity and nobility whilst 15 is rather unexpectedly leisurely. The recorded date is given as November 1951; I thought it was 1949. The C minor Nocturne is powerfully sculpted – I query the date of 12 November 1949 as I always believed it was 21 November.

The sixth disc also houses a terse performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral sonata and it’s a rare example on disc of his espousing the composer’s music – though he did also record Opp.27/2, 57, 111 and the first movement only of Op.57 in a live 1948 performance. His Liszt is equally valuable, emotively keen and technically formidable. The Schubert song transcriptions perhaps show him at his finest with playing both trenchant and songful, resonantly attuned to the fearsome demands made upon him. Mention of Schubert leads us to two major sonata performances. D960 is a performance of truly affecting depth, once again, as with his Chopin, strongly personalised, but espousing a gigantic awareness of the emotive extremes inherent in the writing. So too in D784, another performance – previously unheard by me – that reveals him as a Schubertian of tremendous force and vitality. The Impromptu is limpid , leisurely and rubato-rich.

Schumann stalks the last disc. In Carnaval 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, Rachmaninoff’s or Myra Hess’s legendary recordings is best put to one side. Sofronitzky 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.

These idiosyncrasies and personalised touches mark out quite a bit of Sofronitzky’s playing. But it’s musicianship of the very highest level, probing, quiveringly sensitive, breathtakingly incisive. And if the recordings themselves are often less than perfect then that’s a price worth paying for musicianship such as this.

Jonathan Woolf

Detailed Tracklisting:

CD 1 [63:46]
Alexandre SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
1.Prelude in C major Op. 11 No. 1 [0:46]
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor Op. 23
2.Drammatico [6:05]
3.Allegretto [2:26]
4.Andante [4:38]
5.Presto con fuoco [5:48]
6.Piano Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor Op. 19: andante [8:20]
7.Poeme in D major Op. 32 No. 2 [1:37]
8.Poeme in C major Op. 44 No. 1 [1:15]
9.Ironies Op. 56 No. 2 [2:23]
10.Morceau Op. 57 No. 1 [1:19]
11.Polonaise in B flat minor Op. 21 [7:10]
12.Etude in F sharp major Op. 42 No. 4 [2:44]
13.Etude in D flat major Op. 42 No. 6 [2:02]
14.Waltz in A flat major Op. 38 [6:07]
15.Prelude in G major Op. 11 No. 3 [0:52]
16.Prelude in B minor Op. 11 No. 6 [0:50]
17.Prelude in A major Op. 11 No. 7 [0:50]
18.Prelude in F sharp minor Op. 11 No. 8 [1:30]
19.Prelude in B major Op. 11 No. 11 [1:53]
20.Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 11 No. 12 [1:35]
21.Prelude in G flat major Op. 11 No. 13 [1:44]
22.Prelude in A flat major Op. 11 No. 17 [0:39]
23.Prelude in C minor Op. 11 No. 20 [1:01]
CD 2 [75:48]
Alexandre SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
1.Prelude in C major Op. 13 No. 1 [2:16]
2.Prelude in A minor Op. 11 No. 2 [1:44]
3.Prelude in G major Op. 13 No. 3 [0:57]
4.Prelude in E minor Op. 11 No. 4 [1:28]
5.Prelude in D major Op. 11 No. 5 [1:23]
6.Prelude in B minor Op. 13 No. 6 [1:20]
7.Prelude in A major Op. 15 No. 1 [1:28]
8.8. Prelude for the left hand in C sharp minor Op. 9 No. 1 [2:31]
9.Prelude in E major Op. 11 No. 9 [1:11]
10.Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 11 No. 10 [0:59]
11.Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 22 No. 2 [0:52]
12.Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 16 No. 2 [1:14]
13.Prelude in F sharp major Op. 16 No. 5 [0:34]
14.Prelude in E flat minor Op. 16 No. 4 [0:57]
15.Prelude in D flat major Op. 11 No. 15 [1:42]
16.Prelude in B flat minor Op. 11 No. 16 [1:33]
17.Prelude in E flat major Op. 11 No. 19 [1:06]
18.Prelude in B flat major Op. 11 No. 21 [1:21]
19.Prelude in G minor Op. 11 No. 22 [0:54]
20.Prelude in D minor Op. 11 No. 24 [1:26]
21.Poeme in C major Op. 52 No. 1 [1:55]
22.Poeme Op. 59 No. 1 [1:30]
23.Poeme Ailé Op. 51 No. 3 [0:48]
24.Poeme languide Op. 52 No. 3 [1:46]
25.Masque Op. 63 No. 1 [0:59]
26.Poeme satanique Op. 36 [6:09]
27.Piano Sonata No. 9 Op. 68 "Black Mass" [7:57]
28.Poeme Op. 69 No. 1 [1:34]
29.Poeme Op. 69 No. 2 [1:09]
30.Flammes sombres Op. 73 No. 2 [1:50]
31.Guirlandes Op. 73 No. 1 [2:29]
32.Piano Sonata No. 10 Op. 70 [11:10]
33.Fragilité Op. 51 No. 1 [1:53]
34.Feuillet d'album in E flat major Op. 45 No.1 [1:21]
35.Etude in C sharp minor Op. 42 No. 5 [3:10]
36.Mazurka in F sharp major Op. 40 No. 2 [1:10]
37.Etude in D sharp minor Op. 8 No. 12 [2:42]
CD 3 [51:34]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Petite Suite
1.Au Convent [4:18]
2.Intermezzo [3:09]
3.Mazurka [2:35]
4.Mazurka [2:45]
5.Reverie [1:37]
6.Serenade [1:30]
7.Nocturne [2:28]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Tales of an Old Grandmother Op. 31
8.Moderato [2:02]
9.Andantino [1:06]
10.Andante assai [2:41]
11.Sostenuto [2:49]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
12.Moment Musical Op. 16 No. 3, andante cantabile [4:42]
13.Moment Musical, Op. 16 No. 5, adagio sostenuto [3:58]
14.Etude-tableau in C major Op. 33 No. 2, allegro [2:24]
15.Etude-tableau in G minor Op. 33 No. 8, moderato [3:32]
16.Etude-tableau in B minor Op. 39 No. 4, allegro assai [2:29]
17.Etude-tableau in E flat minor Op. 39 No. 5, appassionato [4:38]
18.Etude-tableau in A minor Op. 39 No. 6, allegro [2:42]
CD 4 [63:36]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
1.Mazurka in A minor Op. 67 No. 4 [2:47]
2.Mazurka in E major Op. 6 No. 3 [1:37]
3.Mazurka in E minor Op. 41 No. 2 [2:04]
4.Mazurka in B flat major Op. 17 No. 1 [1:58]
5.Mazurka in G sharp minor Op. 33 No. 1 [1:29]
6.Mazurka in E flat minor Op. 6 No. 4 [0:45]
7.Mazurka in B major Op. 63 No. 1 [1:53]
8.Mazurka in F minor Op. 63 No. 2 [1:40]
9.Mazurka in F major Op. 68 No. 3 [1:22]
10.Mazurka in C major Op. 68 No. 1 [1:35]
11.Mazurka in A minor Op. 68 No. 2 [2:30]
12.Mazurka in D flat major Op. 30 No. 3 [2:32]
13.Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 30 No. 4 [3:30]
14.Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 41 No. 1 [3:05]
15.Mazurka in G minor Op. 24 No. 1 [3:03]
16.Mazurka in C major Op. 33 No. 3 [2:56]
17.Waltz in A flat major Op. 64 No. 3 [2:04]
18.Waltz in D flat major Op. 70 No. 3 [3:37]
19.Waltz in F minor Op. 70 No. 2 [2:31]
20.Waltz in D flat major Op. 64 No. 1 [2:04]
21.Ballade No. 3 in A flat major Op. 47 [7:21]
22.Scherzo No. 1 in B minor Op. 20 [11:03]
CD 5 [63:16]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)  
24 Preludes Op. 28
1.No. 1 in C major [0:35]
2.No. 2 in A minor [2:21]
3.No. 3 in G major [0:52]
4.No. 4 in E minor [2:05]
5.No. 5 in D major [0:28]
6.No. 6 in B minor. [2:08]
7.No. 7 in A major [0:46]
8.No. 8 in F sharp minor [2:05]
9.No. 9 in E major [1:26]
10.No. 10 in C sharp minor [0:29]
11.No. 11 in B major [0:39]
12.No. 12 in G sharp minor [1:14]
13.No. 13 in F sharp major.[3:19]
14.No. 14 in E flat minor [0:33]
15.No. 15 in D flat major.[6:00]
16.No. 16 in B flat minor [1:06]
17.No. 17 in A flat major [3:01]
18.No. 18 in F minor [1:05]
19.No. 19 in E flat major [1:13]
20.No. 20 in C minor [1:45]
21.No. 21 in B flat major [2:02]
22.No. 22 in G minor.[0:44]
23.No. 23 in F major [0:55]
24.No. 24 in D minor [2:31]
25.Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major Op. 53 "Heroic" [7:21]
26.Polonaise No. 1 in C sharp minor Op. 26 No. 1 [6:51]
27.Etude in E flat minor Op. 10 No. 6.[3:30]
28.Etude in E major Op. 10 No. 3 [4:08]
29.Etude in F major Op. 25 No. 3 [1:50]
CD 6 [53:53]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)  
1.Nocturne in E flat major Op. 9 No. 2 [4:41]
2.Nocturne in G major Op. 37 No. 2 [5:46]
3.Nocturne in C minor Op. 48 No. 1 [6:10]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in D major Op. 28 "Pastoral"
4.Allegro [10:32]
5.Andante [7:52]
6.Allegro vivace [2:40]
7.Rondo, allegro ma non troppo [4:54]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
8.Variations sérieuses, Op. 54 [11:16]
CD 7 [53:55]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
1.Eglogue, from "Années de Pelerinage,Year 1: Switzerland" [2:45]
Années de Pelerinage , 2nd Year: Italy
2.Sposalizio [8:42]
3.Il Penseroso [4:31]
4.Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa [2:58]
5.Sonetto 123 del Petrarca [6:45]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) transcribed by Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
6.Die Stadt [2:32]
7.Die junge Nonne [4:45]
8.Am Meer [4:04]
9.Frühlingsglaube [3:31]
10.Auf dem Wasser zu singen [4:14]
11.Der Doppelgänger [4:12]
12.Erlkönig [4:51]
CD 8 [62:47]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in B flat major D 960
1.Molto moderato [14:03]
2.Andante sostenuto [11:09]
3.Scherzo, allegro vivace [3:50]
4.Allegro ma non troppo [7:35]
Piano Sonata in A minor D784
5.Allegro giusto [10:18]
6.Andante [4:05]
7.Allegro vivace [4:55]
8.Impromptu in G flat major Op. 90 No. 3 [6:48]
CD 9 [56:53]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Wanderer Fantasy in C major Op.15 D 760
1.Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo [5:53]
2.Adagio [6:22]
3.Presto [4:41]
4.Allegro [3:41]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
3 Pieces from Bunte Blätter Op. 99
5.Nicht schnell, mit Innigkeit [2:08]
6.Sehr rasch [0.48]

7.Frisch [0:54]
Carnaval Op. 9
8.Preambule [2:22]
9.Pierrot [1:45]
10.Arlequin [1:15]
11.Valse noble [1:54]
12.Eusebius [1:40]
13.Florestan [0:54]
14.Coquette [1:32]
15.Replique [1:28]
16.Papillons [0:47]
17.A.S.C.H-S.C.H.A [0:53]
18.Chiarina [1:36]
19.Chopin[ 1:24]
20.Estrella [0:24]
21.Reconnaissance [1:47]
22.Pantalon et Colombine [1:01]
23.Valse allemande [0:59]
24.Paganini [1:29]
25.Aveu [0:57]
26.Promenade [4:13]
27.Pause [0:18]
28.Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins [3:35]


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