Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata no.1 op.1 in F minor (1906-09) [7:41]
Sonata no.2 op.14 in D minor (1912) [17:55]
Sonata no.3 op.28 in A minor (1907/1917) [7:19]
Sonata no.4 op.29 in C minor (1917) [16:33]
Sonata no.5 op.135 in C (1923 (as op.38)/1953) [15:29]
Alexandra Silocea (piano)
rec. St. Dunstan's Church, Mayfield, England, 6-9 September 2010. DDD
AVIE AV2183 [65:16]
This is the first CD of young Romanian-born pianist Alexandra Silocea. Though Avie is a relatively low-key label, this disc has been released amid a certain amount of hype which has become almost de rigueur for young female soloists in a marketing industry that often focuses as much on image or even appearance as on musicianship. Thus Gramophone magazine labels her "Alexandra the Great", a slightly patronising epithet that has ensconced itself on the internet and found its way into Avie's blurb. Silocea's biographical notes in the CD booklet do her few favours either: after her concert debut in Vienna 2008, another in Vienna and one at the Carnegie Hall in 2009, she had apparently "established herself as one of the leading pianists of her generation" - if that is not silly, counter-productive hype, nothing is.
However, it must be said straight away that this is an excellent debut. Silocea has stated that her intention on this recording "is to give an interpretation very faithful to the score, without unnecessary or superficial effects. I have experienced quite some resistance in programming these works but I hope that with this recording, listeners will discover more than they imagined." She does indeed put Prokofiev's music first, giving an understated, intelligent, limpid and coherent interpretation - that of a musician's musician rather than a show(wo)man - of these under-appreciated works. She achieves this not only thanks to a fantastic technique - there is of course no other way through Prokofiev's sonatas - but on the basis of a thorough reading of the scores.
These are recordings that Prokofiev himself would surely have approved of. Which provokes two questions: firstly, why are these sonatas as a group - as compared with the glamorous 'War' sonatas that were to follow - not much more popular with audiences, performers and critics? There is far too much breathtaking invention, beautiful lyricism and astounding virtuosity in these works for any of them to be at all marginalised. And their conciseness makes it a simple matter to slot them into almost any recital - extreme technical prowess of the pianist provided, of course.
Secondly, why are there not more pianists who play them like Silocea? Few if any, for example, have mined some of the warmth and wit in the Fourth Sonata like Silocea does here. And her obvious fondness for the Fifth enhances its lyricism and rhythmic sultriness, leaving the listener wondering what there is not to like about it. Even Prokofiev biographer David Nice does not seem all that taken in his notes.
Of the five, the Second, Third and Fourth at least have been fairly widely recorded, and in roughly equal measure. On the face of it, Silocea has a lot of competition, most notably from Boris Berman, Frederic Chiu and perhaps Emil Gilels. Yefim Bronfman's complete sonatas, repackaged by Sony Classics in 2003 - see review - come closest perhaps in spirit to Silocea's interpretations. But recent recordings of these relatively unfashionable works have been few and far between, reissued box sets of past glories aside. In the last year or so, perhaps the only recommendable version of any of them has been Freddy Kempf's of the Second Sonata on BIS - see review.
Perhaps the most famous, not to mention infamous, recording of Prokofiev's first five sonatas is the one made by Joyce Hatto, or should that be her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, released on Concert Artist/Fidelio Recordings in 2005 shortly before her death, and warmly reviewed here! [nla]
The recording quality is high, if not quite exceptional - there is a tiny bit of background hiss in places, and Silocea's breathing is quite noticeable at times, though certainly not intrusive. The Steinway D piano plays its part admirably as usual. The trilingual booklet is glossy and informative, particularly David Nice's generous, if rather dry, commentary on the works.
This release is marked "volume 1 of the complete sonatas". The second volume - presumably in a double-disc set, as Prokofiev was not sufficiently considerate to make the nine sonatas quite short enough to be squeezed onto two discs - will pose a greater pianistic and artistic challenge for Silocea, but there is every reason to believe, on the basis of this recording, that she will be up to it.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
This is an excellent debut disc.