Prokofiev: Symphony-Concerto in E minor, Op. 125; Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony-Concerto in E minor, Op. 125; Cello Sonata in C, Op. 119
PERFORMER: Han-Na Chang (cello); LSO/Antonio Pappano (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57438 2
Rostropovich’s protégée, not yet 20 when she made these recordings, proves worthy of the master in the two very different Prokofiev works he inspired. Radically refashioned from the complicated First Cello Concerto, the Symphony-Concerto (not ‘Sinfonia concertante’ as EMI calls it; there is nothing ‘concertante’ about this mighty hybrid) demands intense extremes, however you care to read the central conflict’s battle between good and evil, and in that respect Chang and Pappano are well matched. Tempi tend to be a little faster than suggested – Allegro rather than Andante in the first movement, making it more extrovert and less deadly poisonous than usual (though with a magical withdrawal to pianissimo for the strings’ dreamy descending minor scales), Allegro molto rather than Allegro in the second. Such a speed prompted alarm that this was going to be a showcase for Chang’s flawless virtuosity, but reservations melted in the face of the tender introversion she finds for the heartbreaking E major soul of the movement.

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Pappano and the LSO pull no punches, either, with a chilling re-creation of Soviet-vibrato-style trumpets in the clenched fist that threatens Prokofiev’s tenderest song and an inexorable accelerando for the movement’s final dance of death. The variations let us off the hook a little, but the return of the whirlwind takes the breath away; not even Rostropovich in his many versions makes the hair stand on end quite like this.

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The Sonata is a different matter, imposing rather than innately noble. Chang, with Pappano as pianist, drives home the point a little too forcefully; this is music that should sound as fresh as the day it was born.