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Prokofiev: Complete Piano Sonatas

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, July 21, 1998
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Editorial Reviews

Sonates pour piano n° 1 à 10 / Boris Berman, piano
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7:28
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3:59
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10
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12
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5:15
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Disc 2
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6:05
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8:37
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6
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7
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10
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Disc 3
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3
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Product Details

  • Performer: Boris Berman
  • Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
  • Audio CD (July 21, 1998)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Label: Chandos
  • ASIN: B000007TRL
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,526 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
The nine piano sonatas of Prokofiev occupy an important position in the history of the piano of the twentieth century and they cover a time that crosses whole compositive activity of the Russian composer. In these works we find all the peculiarities of Prokofiev: the percussive and barbaric rudeness of the first period, the synthesis of virtuosity, choreographic spirit and neoclassicism of the intermediary period and the tragic expressiveness of the last sonatas, sometimes transfigured in episodes of intense lyricism; everything is built always with a recognizable style, offering a complete synthesis of the art of Prokofiev. The interpretation of Boris Berman is very valid, idiomatic, and it respects the spirit of the composer adequately. The presence of the recordings of some sonatas (2,6,7,8,9) in the extraordinary interpretation of Sviatoslav Richter prevents me to assign the fifth star to the edition of Berman. To the amateurs of Prokofiev I would recommend the acquisition of the complete edition of the piano works of Prokofiev, in 9 CDs, effected by Berman, also for Chandos; it is surely more expensive, but it represents a cultural contribution of high value. The quality of the recording Chandos is excellent.
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Format: Audio CD
The recordings made by Boris Berman of the complete piano sonatas by Sergei Prokofiev were noted for their excellence when they appeared during the early 1990s. Prokofiev's piano sonatas follow the composer's career from the beginning to the very end. The first sonata, his opus 1, was reworked from music he wrote in his early teens and is quite a mature work. When we arrive at his second sonata the mature composer has arrived. This work, his opus 14, is an engaging sonata with what will be recognizes as typical melodies and colors very much looking forward to Prokofiev's music to come. The Third and Fourth Sonatas were reworked from much earlier works. Like the First Sonata, the Third is in a single movement and the Tempestoso section is noteworthy for its swirling melody that inspired the young Dmitri Shostakovich when he wrote his First Sonata. The Fourth Sonata is famous for the Andante movement which the composer orchestrated. It is in three movements and the first movement beginning with a gloomy melody that may relate to the suicide of his friend Maximillian Schmidthof for whom the sonata is dedicated (as is the Second Sonatas and Second Piano Concerto). The sonata is a lyrical and reflective work marked by some restraint of Prokofiev's self-confident writing.

The 1920s saw only the Fifth Sonata which was premiered in 1924. The Andantino movement is striking in its similarity to the "Blues" movement of Maurice Ravel's Violin Sonata but, although not overly complex, the harmonies are close to the dense orchestration of the Second Symphony. Much later Prokofiev revised the sonata as his opus 135 when he lightened the tone of the music and clarified the structure. I do not favor one version over the other.
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Format: Audio CD
There are now a number of reviews of this set of discs which were recorded in the early 1990's and then issued as a box set and becoming a Gramophone Awards Winner in 2000. Generally the reviews are favourable as one would expect of an award winning set, but one reviewer has raised strong objections to the actual recorded sound, a problem not mentioned in the awards.

In my view, it seems fairly safe to suggest that this set of the nine full sonatas plus fragment is an eminently safe bet so far as interpretations go and it has the added advantages of including both versions of the fifth sonata and advantageous price. That is not to say that individual sonatas cannot be challenged by purchasing alternative performances.

In that respect there are fine Richter recordings of the later sonatas which could possibly be described as definitive performances within less than definitive older sound. Pollini's famous account of number 7 still holds sway for me but comes with some couplings that are not to my taste. There are also several fine performances and recordings of the taxing sixth sonata which will match the one here. I personally find the second sonata as played by Elisso Virsaladze as part of a stunning live concert at the Roque d'Antheron on a wonderfully recorded DVD untouchable - and I like all the rest of the concert! Another fine DVD performance including the seventh sonata is delivered by Grigory Sokolov. There is also Alexander Gavrylyuk, Miami Piano Festival Gold Medal winner, who includes spectacular, but not the deepest, performances of sonatas 6 & 7 as part of his 2005 recital there. All of these are desirable recordings for enthusiasts wishing to add to a complete set such as Boris Berman's.
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These performances show so much insight into Prokofiev's sonatas that it pains me not to feel able to give the set a higher rating in crude terms of stars. And it's not just interpretative insight that they show, but also the powerful fingers and firm technique that the works continually call for. My problems are with the sound quality, and there are several of them.

I found the tone in the first sonata off-putting right away. It is a big late-romantic wash of 8-foot-grand-piano noise without much seeming interest in distinctness, but I could have put up with that to the extent that this is a very early work, not fully characteristic of what became the composer's distinctive idiom and, indeed, a late romantic effort. If the sustaining pedal is a bit overused then I suppose that goes with the territory too. What I could not reconcile myself to was a sense that the recording microphone was just too close to the instrument. This sense pervades most of the first disc in varying degrees, after which matters improve greatly. However there is still the feeling that the situation develops much like peeling an onion: you remove one layer of problem only to be confronted with others. I shall refrain from using the metaphor to suggest that the process leads to tears.

The second sonata is the Prokofiev we know, and the sound is better at least by comparison. This allows us to hear some real expressiveness and soul in the slow movement, and there is much more of that to follow at the corresponding points in the later pieces. However the recording is still bottom-heavy, detracting from the effect of the right-hand work, but also unattractive in a way that may be attributable to the performer.
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