WORKS: Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet; Waltz from War and Peace; Two Pieces from The Love for Three Oranges; Six Pieces from Cinderella
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 452 062-2
Brittle opening chords and a dry acoustic suggest the worst right at the start, but Ashkenazy goes on to invest Prokofiev’s most famous transcriptions with a drama and poetry of his own. He knows the ballets well as a conductor, of course: vivid memories remain of his concert-hall Romeo and Juliet excerpts, while his complete Cinderella (Decca) puts Pletnev’s recent contender in the neutral shade, and since one misses Prokofiev’s brilliant orchestral colours surprisingly rarely in the piano versions – exceptions are ‘Romeo bids Juliet farewell’ and the Scherzo from The Love for Three Oranges (pianistically cumbersome, or so it sounds here) – there’s much to enjoy in these selective vignettes.
Shedding the clangorousness that sometimes marred his recent Prokofiev sonatas disc, Ashkenazy achieves the well-weighted ‘orchestral’ tones of the Russian pianistic tradition in ‘Montagues and Capulets’ and the Oranges March (ubiquitous encore at so many of the composer’s piano recitals, and little wonder). Judicious use of the sustaining pedal keeps enchantment in focus for ‘Dance of the girls with lilies’ and the central sequence of the first Cinderella waltz; indeed, the other-worldly facets of the later ballet are captured with a self-effacing wisdom that’s very much a part of the playing throughout. David Nice