Tchaikovsky: Piano Sonata in F minor; Piano Sonata in C sharp minor; Piano Sonata in G

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Sonata in F minor; Piano Sonata in C sharp minor; Piano Sonata in G
PERFORMER: Leslie Howard (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66939
Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Sonata is a powerful work, begun when he was a 23-year-old student at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. The Second is more substantial, orchestral in texture, and was played and recorded by no less a pianist than Emil Gilels (now on the Russian Disc label). Yet Tchaikovsky was clearly not satisfied with either work. He left the First unfinished, and more or less wrote off the Second by orchestrating the Scherzo and using it in his First Symphony. The Third – the ‘Grand’ Sonata in G – has inspired more pianists and reached a wider public, though Tchaikovsky referred to even this as a ‘rather dry and complicated piece’.

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It was Leslie Howard who completed the First Sonata, and he plays it, with the other two, on this disc. His mammoth trek through Liszt’s complete piano compositions and transcriptions (also for Hyperion) marks him out as a pianist quite undaunted by the super-virtuosic, but he employs his virtuosity entirely for the tasteful interpretation of the music. Perhaps the finale of the Third Sonata is a bit too hectic in places, but Howard turns out a strongly characterful performance, with an especially inspired Andante, and beautifully pointed cross-rhythms and neat staccato in the ensuing Scherzo. Wadham Sutton