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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Prokofiev on the Air
Sonata No.4 in C minor: Andante assai, Op. 29 (1917) [6:21]
Visions fugitives, Op. 22 Nos.3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 10,18, 9 (1915-17) [8:31]
Music for Children, Op.65 Nos, 10, 11, 12 (1935) [3:39]
Etude, Op.52 No.3 [1:56]
Suggestion diabolique, Op.4, No.4 (1910-12) [2:24]
Four Pieces Op. 3 (1907-08) [6:14]
Hamlet; incidental music; Gavotte No. 4 arr piano, Op. 77bis (1938) [2:52]
Four Pieces Op. 4 (1908, rev 1910–12) [11:20]
Ten Pieces, Op. 12 (1906-13) [25:20]
Sergei Prokofiev (piano)
Alexander Vedernikov (piano)
rec. 16 January 1937 Columbia Concert Hall, WABC, New York; undated Vedernikov recital
PARNASSUS PACD96073 [72:23]

In February and March 1935 Prokofiev recorded a small sequence of his music for French HMV in Paris, a more-than-pendant to the 1932 recording of his Piano Concerto No.3 with Piero Coppola conducting. Had Henry Wood not been tied to the Columbia label he would probably have accompanied Prokofiev, as he had in Queen’s Hall a couple of months before the recording sessions. The solo sequence in Paris, however, revealed what was in the composer-pianist’s repertoire at the time and these recordings are well-known. What is not quite so well-known is that a 1937 solo broadcast has survived of Prokofiev performing a similar sequence in New York during an American tour. That’s what we have in Parnassus’ latest release.

It should be made clear that this isn’t the first time it has appeared. It was first released on St Laurent Studio YSL 78-145 coupled with the Romeo and Juliet Suite No.2 that Prokofiev conducted in Moscow in 1938. It’s still available from that label. Unlike the commercial recordings Prokofiev was clearly without backup in the broadcasting studio. Back in Paris he had needed no fewer than six takes to get around the demands of the Etude Op.52 No.3 but he dispatches it live with nonchalance. The sequence he performed closely approximates the Paris studio recordings; this was his favoured recital repertoire. It couldn’t have hurt that Victor had released the set of his performances in America so reprising them on the air served as a valuable promotional opportunity. The selection of Visions fugitives is almost the same, though the order in which they are presented differs. In Paris the sequence was released as 9, 3, 7, 18, 11, 10, 16, 6 and 5 but in New York he plays, in order, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 10, 18 and 9. Additionally, in New York he dropped No.16 the Dolente.
The source disc has some thistly surface and some crunches but is distortion-free and open at the top, and thus very listenable, and whilst some scuffs and pops may very temporarily inhibit pleasure, you’d have to be very odd to let that put you off. The exceptional rarity of this broadcast is obvious. All announcements have been retained, as well as Prokofiev himself introducing, in English, Music for Children from which he plays three pieces. He didn’t record these in Paris so that is reason enough for pianophiles to wish to hear them. The recital was given in the Columbia Concert Hall, WABC, NY on 16 January 1937.

Parnassus have chosen to couple this with a Melodiya LP, undated, played by one of the composer’s champions, Alexander Vedernikov (1920-1993). The pianist served as a kind of amanuensis to Prokofiev and helped him write out orchestral scores. A Neuhaus student, he formed a formidable collaboration with Richter, examples of which have survived on disc. A 17-CD box of the pianist’s art has recently appeared on the Scribendum label (SC821) and contains everything in his Parnassus selection. (Conversely, the box contains things that aren’t in this Parnassus disc.) He plays the Opp.3, 4 and 12 sets. Interestingly the one piece both Prokofiev and Vedernikov play is the Suggestion diabolique, Op.4, No.4 where the composer is decidedly more devilish in speed and character. Vedernikov though, unlike one or two better-known pianists, plays the sets complete rather than picking and choosing and the results are cumulatively impressive even if I find the LP as recorded – and that’s nothing to do with Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfer skill – rather limited in range and quality.

Prokofiev collectors now have a choice of couplings for the 1937 broadcast, but they should certainly hear one or the other.

Jonathan Woolf

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