Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor; Piano Sonata No. 2 in D minor; Piano Sonata No. 3 in A minor; Piano Sonata No. 4 in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor; Piano Sonata No. 2 in D minor; Piano Sonata No. 3 in A minor; Piano Sonata No. 4 in C minor
PERFORMER: Frederic Chiu (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907197
Chiu’s fierce intelligence expresses itself here in the distinctively turned phrases of his booklet notes almost as impressively as in his transcendental technique. He introduces this Prokofiev cycle impatiently, writing of his disappointment that the young composer should have squandered his Op. 1 on ‘a thick, square, Romantic one-movement work’ – but gives a lucid and finely rubatoed account of the hyper-Rachmaninov style all the same, albeit in rigorously close and dry sound which takes some getting used to.

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Yet from the minute that Prokofiev first drops his trousers, so to speak, seconds into the Second Sonata, the listener’s pleasure and astonishment should be unreserved. Chiu’s temperament tends to the sharp-edged slightly more than the lyrical, but he is neither over-percussive in hair-raising climaxes nor insensitive to dreamy second subjects (the softer dynamics are always atmospheric when he wants them to be). Brilliant articulation, making Prokofiev’s most terrifying demands sound like mere child’s play and effortlessly underlining each movement’s centre of gravity, never becomes mechanical, since it’s always informed by a flexible, palpably physical undertow. Later volumes, paradoxically, have already been released, but the big sonatas are still to come, and on this evidence the cycle as a whole could eclipse even Ovchinikov’s on EMI. David Nice