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Prokofiev Plays Prokofiev
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With some trivial exceptions, mostly piano rolls, this disc compiles Prokofiev's complete recordings as a pianist. It's a pity there are so few of them, but we are fortunate to have any. The composer's brilliance in his own popular Third Piano Concerto has never been surpassed, not even by such contemporary virtuosi as Argerich and Toradze. The way he tosses off the showers of rushing chords just before the end of the last movement is a typical illustration of Prokofiev's amazing pianism. Even the sluggish playing of the LSO under the direction of Coppola, a company hack from French EMI, doesn't diminish the value or the thrills of this performance. The selection of piano music, brief as it is, reveals the contrasting facets of Prokofiev's style, and his playing reflects moods from the sarcastic brilliance of Suggestion diabolique to the touching poignance of the slow movement from the Fourth Piano Sonata. Superbly transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn, this listenable and compelling disc is a model of what historical reissues should be in both content and presentation. --Leslie Gerber
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I cannot decide, whether this 3rd Concerto's performance is "definitive" or not. For the first, I am not a completist and haven't heard many performances mentioned by Mr.Lipscomb in this forum. As for other fine performances of Prokofiev's Op. 26, I would probably turn to Jorge Bolet's version of Genesis GCD 104: Bolet was especially well-suited for Prokofiev's music, and I fail to explain why this excellent recording of Prokofiev's 2nd and 3rd Concertos is not accessible on any better known label. For the second, I am not very fond of Prokofiev's 3rd Concerto: I think that the main reason that this piece is grown so popular is that its musical language is oversimplified compared to, say, Prokofiev's 2nd or 5th Concertos. But I definitely (my excuses for this term) agree that Prokofiev's performance of his 3rd Concerto is fine and shows his piano style at its best. I think that Coppola provides a good accompaniment and don't see any reasons to look down on him.
I agree that Prokofiev's short solo pieces are the jewel of this collection. Most of them are not virtuosic (except for the "Suggestion Diabolique" and Etude, Op. 52) and really short (only the Andante assai from Op. 29 lasts 6'08'' - but this is a sonata fragment and not a separate piece). These "mimoletnosti" (Visions fugitives) or "Skazki staroj babushki" (Contes de la vielle Grand-mere) are very idiosyncratic, very Russian music. The funny titles of these pieces are not a parlour game. A typically "Russian" attitude to music implies that a performer knows or at least is able to guess, what the piece is about: his intituitions may be very vague - I am not speaking of a literary programme. Prokofiev of course knew what these 'visions' or 'fairy-tales' were about. But what is more important, he knew how to show their musical structure and how to prove that a 20-second sequence is a complete and self-sufficient piece. His playing is completely devoid of outside matters. He is playing as a composer, and not as concert star who is tempted by 'diabolic suggestions' like 'let's add a fine legato her, let's emphasize the left hand, let's play some little tricks with the pedal etc.'. That is why Prokofiev's performance of these pieces sounds more convincing to me, than, say, the performance of a far greater pianist, Vladimir Sofronitsky (I am not sure, but probably the composer himself would have recognized this assessment - Sofronitsky and Prokofiev were both rooted in Scriabin's piano circle). Sofronitsky's version of "Visiones fugitives" and "Contes de la vielle Grand-m." may be found on MEL CD 1000747 (=Russian piano school, Vol. 2). Buy this CD-set, if you can: Sofronitsky plays all 4 fairy tales Op. 31 and some other Prokofiev's pieces which are not on this CD. But Prokofiev's Prokofiev is better.
An curious detail: Mark Obert-Thorn writes in the producer's note that he included several items omitted from a recent EMI 'Composers in Person' series CD, namely both tales Op. 31, the Sonatina Pastorale and some other music. A silly choice from the editors of the EMI CD: these tracks are among the best on this NAXOS CD - one more reason to get it, not the EMI version.
If I were to choose just two best items on this CD, I would rather choose Mimoletnostj No. 14 'Dolente' (track 11) and the fairy tale Op. 31. No. 3 (track 17)- the Andante assai from Sonata No. 4 is in the same veine as the fairy tale Op. 31. No. 3, but the fairy tale is more concise, transparent and direct.
Summary: buy this CD for the solo piano music of Prokofiev - better performances do not exist.
Included on this disc is a one-of-a-kind performance of Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto recorded in 1932 at the famed Abbey Road Studios (this is exactly 30 years before the Beatles made Abbey Road a household name). On this recording, Prokofiev shows off his effortless chops as a pianist while the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Piero Coppola provides a strong backdrop to the composer's up-front-and-center piano.
Filling out the disc are solo piano recordings made by Prokofiev in Paris in 1935. Here, he gives authentic renditions of his "Suggestion Diabolique" as well as stellar excerpts from his 20-part "Visions Fugitives", the Gavotte movement from his famous "Classical Symphony" (Symphony No.1), the closing movement of his Fourth Piano Sonata and other shorter piano pieces.
Getting to hear Prokofiev play his own music brings a definitve sense of authenticity to the music. You get to hear the composer perform the music as they originally intended it to be executed. While he is not as powerful of a pianist as Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev does display a dynamic and flawless technique on these historic recordings. The audio restoration and digital remastering is amazing bringing clarity and depth to the original recordings without much surface noise or imperfections that are common with old 78 RPM records. The enclosed liner notes while somewhat brief, offering an excellent insight not only to the music but to the actual recordings themselves.
With this said, "Prokofiev Plays Prokofiev" is definitely a must-have for the die-hard Prokofiev fan. It's a genuine treat to hear the genius at work and with its price tag of under eight dollars, this disc is an absolute steal.