WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 4; Piano Sonata No. 5; Piano Sonata No. 6; Piano Sonata No. 77; Piano Sonata No. 8; Piano Sonata No. 9; Toccata, Op. 11; Pieces from the ballet Cinderella, Opp. 95 & 102
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ovchinikov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 55127 2 DDD
EMI has a roster of fine Prokofiev interpreters among its pianists – not least Peter Donohoe, whose powerful disc of the so-called ‘War Sonatas’ (Nos 6-8) might have prompted a sequel – but the choice of Ovchinikov for a complete sonata cycle is richly vindicated in these riveting performances. Trained in the Russian school of orchestral pianism, he uses his phenomenal technique and full-weighted sonority only as a starting point. No two sonatas sound the same; just one example is the way in which Ovchinikov reinforces the young Prokofiev’s transition from Rachmaninov-style rhapsody in the First Sonata to his own, more angular lyricism in the Second by careful observation of the non legato marking in the latter.
The ‘war trilogy’ cries out to be heard in a single sitting: between the hair-raising whirlwinds of the Sixth and Eighth, every note resonantly in place, the outer movements of the Seventh are treated more lightly, if no less dazzlingly. Here, it’s the central Andante caloroso (‘warm’) which plumbs the depths; generalised sleeve notes hardly prepare newcomers for the crushing disintegration of the nostalgic theme, or the numb, keening aftermath so mesmerisingly sustained by Ovchinikov. He knows how to be simple, too, in the Cinderella transcriptions, the hypnotic slow movement of the Fourth Sonata and the luminously sad Ninth, always close to tears. Only Richter and Gilels, the composer’s favourites, find more in this music; and neither has recorded the complete canon. A strange and glorious adventure indeed. David Nice