Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 6; Piano Sonata No. 7; Toccata in C; Étude, Op. 2/1

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 6; Piano Sonata No. 7; Toccata in C; Étude, Op. 2/1
PERFORMER: Freddy Kempf (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1260
No conventional Prokofiev programme, this; but then Kempf is an uncommonly thoughtful virtuoso pianist. His vibrantly recorded sequence casts disturbing and ultimately exhausting lights on the composer as barnstorming youth, deadly adolescent and a man with a great deal to be angry about in his later Soviet years. Despite washes of sustaining pedal right from the start, this First Sonata is not just the usual muddy Rachmaninov impersonation; Kempf terraces the climaxes magisterially and skips disconcertingly on and off the Romantic tracks. It seems a smaller leap than usual to the individual monster of the first Étude and a ferociously tenacious Toccata, and from there an even smaller one in terms of percussiveness to the two mature masterpieces included here.

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By no means can all the quirky interpretative riches of Kempf’s Sixth and Seventh Sonatas be easily absorbed in a single sitting. He devastates by degrees in the Sixth’s first movement, beginning nimbly as Ravel’s ‘Scarbo’ and keeping the blitz of the development sufficiently controlled to pack his biggest punch in the movement’s last climax. The lyric intensity of the great valse lento has all the poignant grandeur it needs, but it’s not until the distant voices of the Seventh Sonata that Kempf’s more subtle interpretative art makes its mark. He saves his most controversial touch until last – seeming to obscure his tracks in the ultimate motor-mania of Prokofiev’s toughest finale but roaring all the louder in the final bars. Definitely the most interesting Prokofiev piano playing since Frederic Chiu’s crisper but equally free and challenging series; hopefully there’s more to come – an Eighth Sonata at least – from Kempf, too. David Nice