Sunday, 3 July 2011

Pollini plays Prokofiev

Maurizio Pollini's legendary recording of Prokofiev's seventh piano sonata has long been available on a CD whose contents seem almost embarrassingly generous, the other recordings being an equally coruscating Stravinsky Three Movements from Petrushka, a glistening Bauhaus-like account of Webern's op.27 Variations, unequalled in its way though there are of course other ways to perform such music, and the classic recording of Boulez's second piano sonata. (I cannot help but wish that he would re-record at least the latter two works, since his present way with them is in many ways quite different, as demonstrated by Tuesday's recital at the Royal Festival Hall.) Yet other music by Prokofiev, a composer to whom Pollini's gifts would seem eminently suited, has been thin on the ground. It would be wonderful, for instance, to have the Visions fugitives or the Sarcasms, or indeed some of the concertos - conducted, say, by Claudio Abbado or even Pierre Boulez, who has been known to conduct some of their number. Pollini's repertoire is, like that of many thoughtful musicians, far greater than what he plays in public; I live in hope that we might one day hear some of his Szymanowski. And dare we hope that the Art of Fugue might be included in that 'shadow repertoire' at least? In the meantime, however, I have come across, quite by chance, a live recording on Youtube of Prokofiev's Third Concerto - certainly his most classical in form - conducted by Maxim Shostakovich: not the most obvious collaborator for the greatest of modernist pianists, one might have thought - and the orchestral sound is certainly more 'Russian' in quality than one would expect to hear from Abbado or Boulez. Limiting Prokofiev by nationality helps his misunderstood cause no more than it does Elgar or Ravel. The gleaning passage-work of the finale has to be heard to be believed - and I am not quite sure that I believe it even then. For what it is worth, I find the tension between Pollini and Shostakovich Jr compelling - and the neo-Romanticism of some of the orchestral movements suits Prokofiev's bitter-sweetness well. This is, after all, the composer of Cinderella as well as The Fiery Angel. In the rush to throw out the socialist realist bathwater, we should not forget the Prokofievan baby's natural lyricism, for surely Prokofiev is one of the great melodists of the twentieth century.Whatever one's tastes in such matters, however, the present performance is very well worth hearing, and makes me wonder what else might be out there...

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