PROKOFIEV, Sergei Sergeyevich works for piano 1908-1938

PROKOFIEV, Sergei Sergeyevich
works for piano 1908-1938
Celestial Harmonies 13292-2, Recorded 1991 ABC Australia

http://prkfv.businesscatalyst.comCELESTIAL HARMONIES 13292-2 [SA] Musicweb International Classical

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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Works for Piano: 1908-1938
Sarcasmes Op.17 (1912-14) [9:23]
Prelude Op.12 No.7 (1906-13) [2:12]
Suggestion Diabolique Op.4 No.4 (1910-12) [2:32]
Four Etudes Op.2 (1909) [10:24]
Musiques d’enfants Op.65 (1935) [2:26]
Pensées Op.62 (1933/34) [13:33]
Nocturne Op.43bis No.2 (1938) [4:56]
Gavotta Op.32 No.3 (1918) [1:30]
Paysage Op.59 No.2 (1933/34) [2:19]
March from L’amour des trois oranges Op.33 bis (1922) [1:31]
Visions Fugitives Op.22 (1915-17) [24:01]

Roger Woodward (piano)

rec. 1991, Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Centre, Ultimo, Sydney, Australia


Pianist Roger Woodward calls Prokofiev “one of the greatest musical
iconoclasts in Russian musical history” and with good reason. While
composers such as Rachmaninov, Medtner, Myaskovsky and Kabalevsky
continued writing music in the nineteenth century tradition, Prokofiev,
who was only nine years old at the dawn of the new century was
determined to write music that was new and different and ‘of the
century’. His music is daring, exciting, at times furious, and
contemporary audiences must have been shocked and baffled by what they
The very first pieces on this disc, his Sarcasmes that date from
1912-14 are full of brash almost dissonant music requiring something
close to a pounding of the piano keys. It wasn’t as if he wouldn’t or
couldn’t write gentle music. Sandwiched between the Sarcasmes and
Suggestion Diabolique, another piece that truly deserves its title, is
hisPrelude Op.12 No.7. This contains the most exquisitely beautiful and
dreamlike sounds you could wish for. The first of theFour Etudes Op.2
from 1909 once again shows his liking for music that sounds angry, the
kind by which an evil giant from a children’s film might be
represented. This is not to say that such pieces are not enjoyable; on
the contrary they are very appealing and cause both excitement, and
wonder at the pianist’s ability to have their hands rush up and down
the keyboard in demented fashion. Roger Woodward describes these as
being “characterised by abrasive, rampaging sonorities”. Prokofiev even
went to extent of giving different time signatures to each hand. That
he was able to play them in public shows that he was an extremely
talented pianist who did not demand anything from anyone that he
couldn’t manage himself.
After the etudes come two of his pieces for children which are truly
delightful. Written in 1935 they were in response to a great demand for
children’s music. He is quoted in the notes as explaining that it was
at that time that he set about writingPeter and the Wolf. It’s a piece
that he completed within a week. He took another week to orchestrate
it; a staggering achievement but a measure of this incredible genius of
a composer.
His Pensées show his reflective side in these gentle dreamy little
vignettes. The last of these is the longest piece on the disc at just
under seven minutes showing how economical a composer he was. He could
create a whole world of ideas and expressions within a remarkably short
amount of time. It is interesting to read in the notes that he
considered the second of thesePensées “one of the best things I have
ever written”. I wonder what you will think as I can’t hear anything in
it that would cause such a reaction. That’s undoubtedly down to an
inability on my part or maybe it’s simply down to “what turns you on”.
Continuing with more calm and beautiful sounds we come to his Nocturne
Op.43bis No.2 a wonderful evocation of night-time. This is followed by
a charmingGavotta from 1918 and a Paysage from 1933-34. Both of these
bear Prokofiev’s unmistakable signature throughout their brief lengths.
TheMarch from L’amour des trois oranges is so well known but never
fails to bring a smile to my face.
Then we come to the 20 pieces that form his Visions Fugitives Op.22
from 1915-17. This sequence constitutes a third of the entire playing
time of the disc. It is fascinating to read Roger Woodward’s reactions
when he first came upon them at the age of 14 in 1957. He was shown
them by his teacher Alexander Sverjensky and the young pianist fall
“head over heels in love with this composer”. It is also just as
fascinating to read of the reactions to that which good Russian friends
of his had. These friends were “steeped in the golden age of
Tchaikovsky and Pushkin” who were dubious about his obvious enthusiasm.
Woodward explains that these miniatures were good preparation for “the
wide range of more complex textures that were constantly transcribed
throughout the middle and late periods”. Woodward likens the set to the
movements of a kaleidoscope which include “passing references to
Schönberg, Debussy, Stravinsky and Reger” - such a telling description
of these wondrous little works. Woodward quotes Prokofiev himself in an
explanation that part of the tiny penultimate piece of the set was
based on fleeting glimpses of the fighting in the streets during the
revolution of 1917. He often caught sight of the fighting from the
security of a corner of a building, thus a true ‘vision fugitive’.
This disc only helps confirm the genius of Prokofiev, a man who was so
afflicted by that particular feeling of nostalgia that émigré Russians
experience that, despite all the evidence, he felt compelled to return
to the Soviet Union. That decision was difficult and his wife resisted
but lost the battle to restrain him. As she had no doubt feared, like
many others he had a hard time ploughing his own musical furrow. To his
credit he, again like many others, doggedly stuck at it. What brilliant
creations his time in the USSR led to and the world continues to enjoy
them today.
I first came upon Roger Woodward with the first ever available
recordings of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues that he made for
RCA in 1975. I was bowled over by his masterly playing…....his
playing here is just breathtaking and one could never tire of hearing
this disc. His booklet notes are equally excellent and help to bring
Prokofiev well and truly into focus as man as well as musician.
This is a disc that any Prokofiev lover will want to own. I hope there
will be more because though Woodward writes that Prokofiev “struggled
with composition” he wrote some of the twentieth century’s most
enduring works.
Steve Arloff

“a pianistic genius”  Tom Sutcliffe, The Guardian (Xenakis’ Eonta)