Prokofiev: The War Sonatas
Boris Giltburg’s first recording of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8 (on EMI) was warmly welcomed in these pages (July 2006). This is Giltburg’s third recording of that sonata, presented within the so-called ‘War Sonata’ trilogy and sounding rather less forlorn than in his earlier recording, with even an insouciant swing to its slow central movement.
Giltburg writes in the booklet with feeling about all three works, and his formidable technique is more than equal to their daunting challenges. Indeed, he takes Sonata No. 7’s Precipitato finale (in his words) ‘at a breakneck tempo’, far faster than any other pianist on record. His reasons for doing this, among other unorthodox points of interpretation, seem reasonable on paper, but in practice they failed to convince me, even after several listenings.
The problem is that Giltburg is so intent on finding and highlighting thematic and stylistic cross-references that he tends to iron out subtle but telling differences in the process. For instance, he treats the staccato ‘quick march’ in the second movement of Sonata No. 6 and the parade-like theme in No. 8’s finale almost as if they were interchangeable: but his perky characterisation of the latter is at the expense of Prokofiev’s very distinct notation. Sviatoslav Richter, who was closely associated with these works from their beginning, brings out that parade’s brutal awfulness simply by taking heed of what Prokofiev wrote. Giltburg, by over-simplifying this and many other passages, unwittingly makes these works little more than virtuoso showpieces of rather obvious character, instead of the richly variegated tapestries he himself recognises.