Prokofiev: Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75; Sarcasms, Op. 17; Four Etudes, Op. 2

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75; Sarcasms, Op. 17; Four Etudes, Op. 2
PERFORMER: Matti Raekallio (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 898-2
The Romeo and Juliet transcriptions may well be intended here to lead the listener on (or back, as the case may be) to a fairly tough cross-section of pieces from Prokofiev’s first great creative decade, but it would take a pianist of more persuasive imagination than Matti Raekallio to argue the case. His crisp, percussive touch evokes one aspect of the composer as pianist; his argument in the notes, however, that ‘a solo pianist can expressÖcomplex emotional characterisation with a much freer rubato than a hundred-piece orchestra ever could’ is emphatically contradicted by a comparison between his clipped, earthbound Romeo excerpts and, say, the Berlin Philharmonic’s under Abbado.

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Technical challenges in the more ferocious of the Etudes, joined by the Toccata which neatly closes the circle here, are admirably met; but the demonism which drives them remains a little under-characterised. Raekallio never quite shows us the outlines of a real face that surface when we least expect it in the Sarcasms and take elliptical shape throughout the Old Grandmother’s Tales. Frederic Chiu (Harmonia Mundi) helps us to understand better the complicated workings of a febrile pianistic imagination and reveals more poetically the burgeoning humanity between the young Prokofiev’s exuberant slaps and punches. David Nice