Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 2 in D minor; Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat; Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2 in D minor; Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat; Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat
PERFORMER: Mikhail Pletnev (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 457 588-2
The last two of the sonatas recorded here belong to Prokofiev’s ‘War’ trilogy. They contain a good deal of characteristically percussive writing, but Pletnev is far too much of a musician to treat them as mere machine music – indeed, what I admire about his playing is its warmth, and the range of colours he is able to draw from the keyboard. These are, however, nothing if not idiosyncratic performances, and there are times when Pletnev runs almost perversely counter to the spirit of the music. The opening movement of the Seventh Sonata is a case in point. Prokofiev’s marking is allegro inquieto, and Pletnev’s curiously slow tempo fails altogether to communicate the sense of unease the composer wanted. It also lands him in trouble in the long accelerando leading from the calmer middle section to the reprise of the initial material, since there is insufficient contrast between his two basic speeds to allow for a sustained increase in animation. Again, the famous toccata-like finale is too deliberate to convey the music’s driving energy. Pollini is incomparable here, though I have to say that I find the opening movement of his much-admired recording – also on DG – too fast to be disturbing.

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Pletnev is more convincing in the Eighth Sonata, where his grip on the long first movement never falters, and he finds just the right atmosphere of dreaminess for the slow movement. In the finale, however, his dangerously slow tempo again attempts to uncover more subtlety than the music perhaps contains. Best of all is the youthful Sonata No. 2, which is played with wonderful humour and verve throughout; but as a whole this is a frustratingly wayward recital.