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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op.82 (1940) [28:33]
Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op.83 (1942) [17:25]
Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat major, Op.84 (1944) [28:27]
Steven Osborne (piano)
rec. 2019, St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
HYPERION CDA68298 [74:28]

Among Prokofiev’s nine piano sonatas, nos. 6, 7 and 8 occupy a special place. Collectively they are generally referred to as his ‘War Sonatas’, though this was a label that was not of his own invention. They date from the years of the Great Patriotic War, of course, which was a period of extraordinary creative activity for him, including the Fifth Symphony (and the plans for the Sixth), the opera War and Peace, the ballet Cinderella, and the film score and cantata Ivan the Terrible. The sonatas form worthy companion pieces to that ambitious and impressive list.

The three works fit perfectly on to a single CD and, as ever, Hyperion organise the presentation and documentation impeccably. Something unusual about the booklet is that it contains a tribute from the artist to his physiotherapist! For it is true that among the challenges involved in performing this music is its uncompromising nature; the virtuosity has an uncompromising edge and thrust. This aspect of the music is well captured by the description that Prokofiev gave the Seventh Sonata’s finale: Precipitato. It is a short movement and the faster the tempo, the more powerful its impact. At little more than three minutes, Osborne takes on the challenge in a performance that is very fast and at the same time sounds appropriately demented. To capture the essence of this uncompromising music, this movement makes a good point of reference.

However, it would be wrong to concentrate unduly on this one aspect of the musical style. The Sixth Sonata, for instance, has its exciting aspect to be sure, but there are contrasting elements of lyricism and repose which are of notable importance within the work. These Osborne captures with great sensitivity, and the balancing passages in the first movement are handled with particular success.

Many of the great pianists have identified with this music, Gilels, Ashkenazy, Pollini and Richter for example, and Osborne is a worthy companion to them, both technically and stylistically. He is magnificently assured in Sonata No. 8, whose wide expressive range challenges the concentration of performer and listener alike, while bringing abundant rewards too. The attention to details of dynamic shading is always important in terms of articulating the musical line and the expressive nature of this music, and in this regard the splendid Hyperion sound plays its full part in the experience.

Terry Barfoot

Previous reviews: Dan Morgan (Recording of the Month) ~ Leslie Wright

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