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
But a fine disc, in any case.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk