Piano Sonata No. 6 in A minor, Op. 82; Things in Themselves, Op. 45; 4 Pieces for Piano, Op. 32; Visions fugitives, Op. 22
Vadym Kholodenko (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902659 77:53 mins
The gold rush of great Prokofiev interpreters – most recently, deep-thinking Alexander Melnikov and ferocious, fearless Steven Osborne – had to strike lead sooner or later, and leaden this is. Shostakovich used to speak disparagingly of mediocre musicians as ‘mezzofortists’, and though Vadym Kholodenko goes from mf to f, with just a couple of quiet endings, his dynamic palette is disturbingly limited. The character pieces – the Sixth Sonata’s satirical scherzo, the four dances of Op. 32 – and the whole set of Visions fugitives suffer most. These hues of the rainbow, to adapt part of the poetic epigraph about ‘Fugitive Visions’ from the poet Konstantin Balmont, are reduced to an almost uniform matte grey. The essential mystery of the many pianissimos is replaced by the ordinary at, yes, mezzo-forte; No. 5 isn’t jocose, No. 6 not elegant, No. 9 choppy rather than tranquillo, No. 14 lacking in ferocity, No 19 not even agitato, let alone the stipulated agitatissimo.
At least there’s a rare chance to get to know the elusive pair of pieces collectively known as Chose en soi (please note, Harmonia Mundi and others, there is no plural; the reference is to Kant’s ‘Ding an sich’, the ‘thing in itself’). But Kholodenko again doesn’t have enough variety to hold the key. Even his sense of movement feels halting: fatal for what should be a juggernaut rolling over the listener in the first-movement development of the sonata. The notes are here; nothing else. Who thought Prokofiev, the essence of ‘personality’ in Stravinsky’s view, could come across as bland and boring?