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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Complete Piano Sonatas
Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 1 (1907-09) [7:47]
Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 14 (1912) [19:07]
Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 28 (1917) [8:07]
Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 29 (1917) [17:00]
Sonata No. 5 in C Major, Op. 38/135 (1923; rev. 1952-53) [15:04]
Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82 (1939-40) [29:20]
Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat Major, Op. 83 (1939-42) [18:53]
Sonata No. 8 in B-Flat Major, Op. 84 (1939-44) [30:09]
Sonata No. 9 in C Major, Op. 103 (1947) [24:35]
Dinara Klinton (Piano)
rec. 2019/20, Westvest Church Schiedem, The Netherlands
PIANO CLASSICS PCL10191 [3 CDs: 170:18]

Ukrainian-born, London-based pianist Dinara Klinton graduated from the Moscow Central School of Music and then earned a Master’s degree and Artist’s Diploma from the Royal College of Music in London. Her teachers include Eliso Virsaladze and Dina Parakhina. She has won high prizes in several major competitions, including second prizes at the 2006 Busoni Competition (at the age of eighteen) and the 2013 International Paderewski Competition. She has made several recordings, her first coming at sixteen on the Delos label in works by Chopin and Liszt, when she was known as Dinara Nadzhafova. In the pedagogical realm, Ms. Klinton serves on the faculty at the Royal College of Music as Assistant Professor of Piano. Needless to say, her credentials are impressive but, you ask, how well does she play the Prokofiev sonatas?

Klinton generally highlights the lyrical side of Prokofiev, though she doesn't play down the sonatas' sardonic, motoric and percussive elements, which are essential characteristics in most of the composer's piano works. She also tends to impart an epic sense to the music, even in sonatas usually treated as lighter fare, such as the First and Third. She employs moderate to slightly expansive tempos and is an imaginative though fairly straightforward interpreter, rarely if ever turning wayward with spur of the moment ideas. Her best performances here are of the First, Second, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth sonatas. Actually, nothing in the set is less than compelling.

In the single movement First Sonata she imparts a stormy character to the main theme, appropriately so, and allows the lyrical alternate theme to flow with nice legato phrasing, while subtly maintaining a restless undercurrent. The development begins with quiet mystery but soon is seething with tension, finally resolving dramatically. This is one of the finest accounts of the First, along with Natalia Trull's (Sorel Classics).

Klinton's Prokofiev Second Sonata is without doubt the only performance on record from the two dozen or more in my collection to not only challenge but probably even surpass Gary Graffman's classic 1963 effort (now on Sony). Klinton delivers a dramatic and powerful first movement: the transition to the main theme and the theme itself are brimming with eerie, edgy atmosphere and in the development section she builds to an imposing climax. The two-minute Scherzo is mischievous and energetic—a witty delight. The ensuing Adagio, one of Prokofiev's most hypnotic creations, is subtly imagined: Klinton phrases the somber theme to capture all its haunting aspects as it seems to struggle free of an oppressive mist but ultimately collapses and yields to it. The finale effervesces with a mixture of playfulness and mischievous humor, especially in the middle section. Klinton's dynamics and accenting deftly italicize Prokofiev's saucy wit.

The single-movement Third Sonata is another success, especially in the dreamy, fairytale-like character that Klinton gives the alternate theme. The buildup and climax of the development section are taken a little too deliberately, but nevertheless come across effectively.

In Klinton's hands the Fourth Sonata has a rather gentle, contemplative character in the opening movement's exposition and reprise. But the development section offers the necessary contrast, building subtly from a restrained beginning to an intense and powerful resolution. The second movement Andante, the only sonata movement that Prokofiev ever recorded—and well—and the only one he made an orchestral version of, is the heart of this work. Klinton's account captures its dark and mysterious character with her usual well judged dynamics and pacing. One must admire her subtle interpretation of the uniting of the movement's two themes at the end, a brilliant stroke by the composer, brought off brilliantly by the performer. The finale here is spirited and zestful, effectively conveying the sense of the composer laughing off the struggles and tribulations of the preceding movements.

The Fifth Sonata is heard here in the revised version of 1952-53, one of the composer's last musical endeavors. It is the better of the two versions, but in either one it is regarded as one of Prokofiev's more advanced or experimental compositions. Klinton wrings out a more linear flow than most pianists from the first movement's somewhat jaggedly contoured themes, making the music sound more lyrical than usual. The second movement's sardonic playfulness emerges nicely in this performance as well, and the finale brims with energy, martial mischief and vivid colors.

The so-called War Sonatas (Nos. 6, 7 and 8) are undoubtedly the greatest trio of piano sonatas since Beethoven and Schubert. The Sixth's first movement here opens powerfully and though later passages may strike you as a bit mechanical—especially in the development section—Klinton makes her way fit the music, producing two crushing climaxes at the heart of this movement that make her account stand out. The Scherzo is light and witty and the ensuing Waltz is brilliantly imagined. The finale is also well played, but it is hard for anyone to surpass Van Cliburn (RCA) in this movement, and possibly in the entire work, though you can't rule out Richter in several of his recorded performances. Still, Klinton delivers one of the finest versions, equal to Cliburn's except for the finale.

Klinton's Prokofiev Seventh is superb. It opens dramatically, the main theme crisply played, bass notes drumming martial sounds with rhythmic vehemence. The alternate theme floats gently and arrestingly, but with hints of darkness. The development section is driven and powerful, a storm of angst and anxiety. The second movement is also brilliantly played, and here, as much as in any other recording, we feel a profound sadness in the main theme. Prokofiev biographer Daniel Jaffé has said that this melody is based on Schumann's lied Wehmut (Sadness) from his Liederkreis, Op. 39, which is also in the same key (E major). Jaffé argues that because Prokofiev was pressured to praise Stalin in Zdravitsa, he wanted to even the score in the War Sonatas, and thus planted a hidden meaning in the middle movement of the Seventh. (Yevgeny Kissin believes the ending of the Sixth Sonata is a portrayal of Prokofiev crushing Stalin with his own leitmotif.) Ironically, Stalin and his lackeys, unsuspecting of the Schumann connection, awarded the Seventh Sonata a Stalin Prize. In any event, Klinton delivers the rest of the movement convincingly, as the building tension erupts in a powerful bell-tolling climax. The finale, for once, is played at a brisk but not breakneck tempo as so many pianists unwisely do today. But Klinton conjures excitement still with her subtle accenting and spirited rhythmic drive. The music ends in a blaze of thunder as a hard-won triumph finally arises with overwhelming force. Stalin getting crushed again?

The Eighth Sonata is an introspective, sometimes subdued work of dark character. Klinton's sensitive way of phrasing captures the lyrical and emotional elements in the first and second theme groups beautifully. Her development section grows to an impressive climax, where she wisely refrains from producing harsh percussive sounds in the bass regions. Instead, she lets sustained notes linger and huge washes of sound to accrue, imparting an epic character to the music, but one of conflict and ultimate loss, as if the result of a pyrrhic victory. The second movement is light and colorful here, quite effective in offering needed contrast. The finale, a most difficult movement to play, is brilliantly brought off by Klinton: she captures the joys and triumphs of the opening themes, as well as the quirky chipper character of the alternate theme. The reminiscences from the first movement are haunting, almost ghostly, and the closing of the sonata, with its mixture of triumph and struggle, is very convincingly played. This is one of the finest performances of this sonata, along with several by Richter and a long forgotten one by short-lived South African pianist Steven De Groote (Finlandia Records).

The Prokofiev Ninth is his most gentle and serene sonata, a valedictory piece undoubtedly, and, despite its simple and direct manner, a work brimming with symbolism and profundity. Near the end of each movement the music heralds a theme from the ensuing movement, and the finale recalls the opening theme from the first movement, thus closing the circle. It has thus been called the perfect form, as each movement relates to the next, thereby creating a cycle with no beginning and no end. It has even been suggested that you could perform the work by starting with any movement as long as you play all four consecutively. In any event, Klinton delivers a stellar account, effectively capturing the lyrical serenity of the first movement, the playfulness in the second, the mixture of beauty and energy in the third and the clownishness and final reminiscences of the finale. In all movements her clarity of detail and her usual manner of pointing up the plentiful lyrical episodes place her account among the finest.

The sound reproduction in all works is quite vivid and powerful, actually state of the art. As for comparisons of complete sets, I have previously favored three accounts: Raekallio (Ondine), Glemser (Naxos) and the aforementioned Trull (Sorel Classics). There are others nearly in their class: Bronfman (Sony Classics), Boris Berman (Chandos) and Sandor (Vox). Less compelling efforts include Nissman (Pierian), McLachlan (Olympia) and Alain Balageas (Calliope and MHS). Klinton is definitely in the top tier and now marginally my first choice over the others. Raekallio is brilliant, but his powerful fortes are sometimes a bit too much. Glemser is great except that his Sixth's first movement main theme is rushed and lacking weight. Trull is quite good but her Sixth and Seventh are not as convincing as Klinton's. The only drawback to Klinton's set is that more music could have been included, like the two Sonatinas and Visions Fugitives. That noted, her cycle is priced considerably lower than a regular three-disc set. So the verdict clearly favors Klinton, and I thus highly recommend her Prokofiev sonatas as a first choice.

Robert Cummings

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