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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Four Pieces (from Ten Pieces from 'Cinderella', op.97) (1943) [7:30]
Piano Sonata no.6, op.82 (1940) [29:27]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Sonata no.2, op.36 (1913/1931) [21:00]
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes from 'Die Fledermaus' by Johann Strauss II (1907) [9:46]
Vivian Choi (piano)
rec. St Catherine Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, 14-20 February 2009. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

This is Korean-born Australian pianist Vivian Choi's first solo CD. She warms up with the first four movements from Prokofiev's 10 Pieces, op.97 from his own ballet Cinderella - not to be confused with his 3 Pieces, op.95 or his 6 Pieces, op.102, all arranged by Prokofiev for piano from the same work.
Then it is straight into the mighty Sixth Sonata, the first of Prokofiev's so-called 'war' sonatas, written in the depressing days of 1939 and 1940. With the literally pounding first movement Choi shows fine muscle development in the upper arm and wrist. After the rowdy jack-the-lad of a second movement, the waltzy third brings a rare opportunity for Choi to switch to more lyrical mode, if not to venture much below forte. Much has been written about the anguish and sinister elements of Prokofiev's Sixth Sonata, and the 'Northern Flowers' authored liner notes continue this trend with abandon. But there really is no "cruel onslaught of enemy" in the first movement, nor "a storm [...] at the door" at the end of the fourth - Choi demonstrates with considerable insight that there is very little torment or darkness, even in the hell-for-leather Vivace finale. Despite the war, Prokofiev is in fact in exuberant, sometimes even sensual mood in this work - in a twisted/ghoulish kind of way without doubt, but nonetheless teasing and extravagant. And uproariously exciting.
By contrast, Rachmaninov's Second Sonata, though just as virtuosic as Prokofiev's Sixth, sounds more refined, more beautiful, and is certainly more inward-looking. The revised 1931 version is shorter than the original, but in some ways more difficult to play. Yet Choi copes admirably, and is particularly appealing in the beautiful slow movement, which still, however, has dozens of notes per second in places.
Choi winds up her well-chosen recital with a wind-down, sort of: Godowsky's lilting, exacting Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes from 'Die Fledermaus' - not 'Die Fliedermaus', as the CD booklet states three times, turning Johann Strauss's 'Bat' into a 'Lilac-Mouse'! This is the second of four Symphonic Metamorphoses Godowsky wrote transforming Strauss's delightful waltz tunes into a piano virtuoso's crowd pleaser. A discful of such works played by Marc-André Hamelin was released by Hyperion in 2008 - see review. Choi does not yet have Hamelin's panache or technique, but who does? Nonetheless she makes light once again of all technical demands, keeping control of the torrent of notes that threatens to spill off the pages of the score.
Sound quality is very good, although for those that might have wished for it, there is very little church atmosphere. The CD booklet is informative, even if the variety of English used is slightly strange in places. The biographical notes on Choi also go into perhaps a bit too much detail, listing even what Australian radio station her recital debut was broadcast on in 1997!
But a fine disc, in any case.

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