, October 2011
Virtuosity and resolve in a reissued cycle of Prokofiev’s nine piano sonatas
This four-CD set of Prokofiev’s nine piano sonatas also includes several fist-shaking gestures for his early anti-Romanticism, complemented by other more amiable offerings. Formidably played and well recorded, it will alert even the most seasoned listener to the conflicting elements of Prokofiev’s always “difficult”, prickly and volatile nature. The First Sonata’s Romantic rhetoric may well have made the composer blush as he moved on in his Second Sonata to find his truest voice, his wintry lyricism, scrubbing-brush bravura and, in the finale, his Tom and Jerry cartoon caperings. Again, the journey from such aplomb to the “War” Sonatas (Nos 6, 7 and 8; for Richter, always among their most celebrated interpreters, music representing “a world without reason or equilibrium”) is immense.
Finnish pianist Matti Raekallio, who I first heard in America many years ago, plays with a shot-from-guns virtuosity that carries all before it. Hear him in the Fourth Sonata’s central Andante assai, music where only a small, barely visible flower grows, or in his blistering attack on the finales of the Seventh and Eighth Sonatas, and you will be more than suitably awed and chilled. His steely resolve softens in Romeo and Juliet and Tales of an Old Grandmother, but returns with a vengeance in the Toccata and early Etudes.
True, there is intense recorded competition for most of these works—for example, Argerich in the Toccata (DG) and Richter heard live in Sonatas Nos 2 and 8, taken from his first 1961 Festival Hall recital (BBC Legends, 3/09)—to take two key examples, but Matti Raekallio’s album still makes for compulsive listening, achieving a keen sense of “works of art that are full of glittering razor-blades” (Picasso).