WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 6 in A; Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat; Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 444 408-2 DDD
Be they chronicles of international strife or the unburdening of a more autobiographical disquiet, the so-called ‘war sonatas’ have certain traits in common, not least an unappeasable spirit of destruction and a tendency to seek consolation in bittersweet nostalgia. Surprisingly, then, there’s little consistency between Ashkenazy’s superficial Sixth and his far more strongly characterised way with its successors. His lightweight pugnacity and casual speeding right at the start seem to bode ill for the trilogy; and yet there are corresponding passages in the Seventh and the Eighth which have all the full, menacing weight they need. The second-movement Allegretto sorely needs the sarcastic lightness of touch that Ashkenazy seems to find so easily for the Eighth’s finale. And so on.
The recording doesn’t help – mostly dry and brittle, somehow warmer for the last sonata (Ashkenazy’s more generous use of the sustaining pedal may make some difference). Perhaps it is simply that Ashkenazy has lived longer with the Seventh and Eighth – he recorded them in the Sixties – but competition is too tough for this sequence as a whole to pass muster; Donohoe and Ovchinikov both run the gamut more imposingly on EMI, and the next instalment of Bernd Glemser’s Naxos cycle should be out soon – a remarkable bargain. David Nice