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Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Complete Piano Sonatas
Piano Sonata No.1 in F minor, Op.1 [7:43]
Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.14 [19:07]
Piano Sonata No.3 in A minor, Op.28 [8:03]
Piano Sonata No.4 in C minor, Op.29 [17:00]
Piano Sonata No.5 in C major (revised version), Op.135 [15:04]
Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op.82 [29:20]
Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op.83 [18:53]
Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat major, Op.84 [30:09]
Piano Sonata No. 9 in C major, Op.103 [24:35]
Dinara Klinton (piano)
rec. 2019/20, Westvest Church, Schiedam, The Netherlands
PIANO CLASSICS PCL10191 [3 CDs: 169:44]

Dynara Klinton made quite an impact with her recording of the Liszt Transcendental Studies (on Genuin, 2016) which met with wide critical acclaim. She was clearly an artist with the technique, and the dramatic and poetic instincts, to do justice to such demanding pieces. The nine piano sonatas of Prokofiev are hardly less demanding, since as she says “His distinctively ‘orchestrated’ writing for the instrument creates a particular challenge for a performer, different weightings, voicings and colours demanding different soundscapes.”

The one-movement eight-minute Sonata No.1 comes closest to the Romantic style of Prokofiev’s predecessors, and Klinton acknowledges that in her interpretation, without making it sound like Scriabin or Rachmaninov. It has a headlong agitation at times, especially towards the close, but also a certain dryness we associate with mature Prokofiev. In the four-movement Second Sonata, the second movement Scherzo is in his motoric toccata style, and Klinton demonstrates the rhythmic grip and momentum needed for such writing, with accurate left hand leaps over the right – an effect she perhaps refers to in her notes describing the composer’s piano style as “visual”.

Sonatas No. 3 and 4 are both designated as “From old notebooks”, as they use material from the composer’s Conservatory years, albeit much transformed. No.3, like the First Sonata, is in one very short movement. Prokofiev played it a lot himself, often opening recitals with it. And indeed Kilnton’s performance here makes it sound a fine curtain-raiser, brilliant triplets driving it along until a songful second theme arrives, which Klinton plays simply and affectingly. The Fourth Sonata is more withdrawn than its extrovert precursors, and Klinton even calls it “a dark work…the first movement like a deep forest” and her playing explores that mood, with an austere keyboard palette in the sombre Andante.

No.4 was the last sonata Prokofiev wrote before leaving Russia in 1918, and the Fifth Sonata of 1923 shows something of the experimentation he encountered in 1920’s Paris, with a higher norm of dissonance at times, less pianistic spectacle, and overall rather elusive in character. Klinton sees it as “something picturesque and transparent” and her account is very persuasive, as much as any I have heard. Although the booklet listing and the box listing both refer to “Op.38”, she favours the later revised version of 1953, Op.135, with its expanded and more assertive coda to the finale – the most substantial difference between the versions. The booklet notes though correctly discuss this later version (no wonder even the May 2020 Gramophone got muddled over which version is played). Of the complete sets of the sonatas I know, only Boris Berman on Chandos (1998) includes both versions of the Fifth Sonata, though his revised coda is less imposingly played than Klinton’s. Yet Berman tells us in his fine book on Prokofiev’s Sonatas (Yale University Press, 2008) there are “few radical differences between the two”. John Lill (ASV) and Yefim Bronfman (Sony) both favour the first version in their complete cycles.

With sonatas numbers 6, 7 and 8 - the great trilogy of so-called “War Sonatas” (though conceived together in 1939 well before Russia entered the war) - Klinton has formidable competition. There are important single discs of numbers 7 and 8 from Pletnev, Gavrilov (both DGG), Marshev (Danacord), and Richter (Alto), and more recently ) in 6, 7 and 8 from Giltburg (Orchid) and Osborne (Hyperion). But in this context of a complete cycle Dynara Klinton can stand alongside these artists. In particular she has the technique for the precipitato finale of No.7, despatched with cumulative energy and Úlan. But she also finds in the slow second movement the warmth implied by the marking of andante caloroso. In fact her lyrical playing across the cycle often seems aimed at revealing the sensitive artist behind Prokofiev’s modernist mask. Numbers 6 and 8, both big half-hour works, present more of an interpretive challenge, to which Klinton rises well, with a strong narrative line through the longer movements. This is a crucial element here, as Emil Gilels, who gave the premiere of No.8, referred to the “symphonic nature of the development”. The Eighth Sonata has enjoyed a lot of prominence on disc of late, in fact recent strong releases have rather buried the work in a mixed recital, such as those on DGG by both Yuja Wang and Daniil Trifonov.

Sonata No.9 was called by Sviatoslav Richter a “Sonata domestica” because of its relative simplicity and intimacy - Prokofiev had warned him it was not “intended to create an effect” (!) Klinton’s performance makes a fitting conclusion to her cycle, atmospheric and, in the second movement scherzo, athletic. The Ninth takes a little longer than the others to reveal its secrets, but she is a sure guide to its structure, sensitive to its innovation of the “preview”, when near the end of each movement the material of the next one is introduced.

The recorded sound is very good and consistent across the cycle. There are very comprehensive booklet notes by Ates Orga, the generous twenty-five pages (English only) featuring interpolated comments from the pianist herself on each work. Other recordings of this cycle add more music to their three discs, perhaps the most appropriate being John Lill’s fine cycle on ASV (1991) which adds the composer’s three Sonatinas. That might be hard to find at a sensible price now, though Presto Classical has reissued a couple of the discs as ‘Presto CDs’. If you don’t wish to turn to a thirty year old cycle (though the ASV sound is good), then Alexander Melnikov has produced two discs of a highly impressive ongoing cycle for Harmonia Mundi, but still lacks Sonatas 1, 3, and 5 – which will certainly leave room for more music. Since the two discs are from 2016 and 2019, he is not in a hurry to complete the cycle it seems.

So for someone wanting reliable interpretations and sensitive, often impressively virtuosic accounts of these splendid works – and at an affordable price - Dynara Klinton should definitely be on the shortlist.

Roy Westbrook
 
Previous review: Robert Cummings



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