PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonatas Nos. 2, 7 and 8 (Bernd Glemser/ Dario Müller) (Naxos: 8.553021)
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Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)
Piano Sonatas Vol. 1
Sonata No.2 in D Minor, Op. 14
Sonata No.7 in B Flat Major, Op. 83
Sonata No.8 in B Flat Major, Op. 84
Sergei Prokofiev was born in 1891 at Sontsovka in the Ukraine,the son of a prosperous estate manager. An only child, his musical talents were fosteredby his mother, a cultured amateur pianist, and he tried his hand at composition at the ageof five, later being tutored at home by the composer Gli?¿re. In 1904, on the advice ofGlazunov, his parents allowed him to enter the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where hecontinued his studies as a pianist and as a composer until 1914, owing more to theinfluence of senior fellow-students Asafyev and Miaskovsky than to the older generation ofteachers, represented by Liadov and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Even as a student Prokofiev had begun to make his mark as acomposer, arousing enthusiasm and hostility in equal measure, and inducing Glazunov, nowdirector of the Conservatory, to walk out of a performance of The Scythian Suite, fearing for his sense of hearing.
During the war he gained exemption from military service by enrolling as an organ studentand after the Revolution was given permission to travel abroad, at first to America,taking with him the scores of The Scythian Suite, arrangedfrom a ballet originally commissioned by Dyagilev, the ClassicalSymphony and his first Violin Concerto.
Unlike Stravinsky and Rachmaninov, Prokofiev had left Russiawith official permission and with the idea of returning home sooner or later. His stay inthe United States of America was at first successful. He appeared as a solo pianist andwrote the opera The Love for Three Oranges
for the Chicago Opera. By 1920, however, he had begun to find life more difficult andmoved to Paris, where he re-established contact with Dyagilev, for whom he revised TheTale of the Buffoon, a ballet successfully mounted in 1921. He spent much of the nextsixteen years in France, returning from time to time to Russia, where his music was stillacceptable.
In 1936 Prokofiev decided to settle once more in his nativecountry, taking up residence in Moscow in time for the first official onslaught on musicthat did not sort well with the political and social aims of the government, aimed inparticular at the hitherto successful opera A Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District byShostakovich. Twelve years later the name of Prokofiev was to be openly joined with thatof Shostakovich in an even more explicit condemnation of formalism, with particularreference now to Prokofiev's opera War and Peace.
He died in 1953 on the same day as Joseph Stalin, and thus never benefited from thesubsequent relaxation in official policy to the arts.
As a composer Prokofiev was prolific. His operas include theremarkable FieryAngel, first performed in its entirety in Paris the year after his death, withballet-scores in Russia for Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. The last of his seven symphonies wascompleted in 1952, the year of his unfinished sixth piano concerto. His piano sonatas forman important addition to the repertoire, in addition to his songs and chamber music,film-scores and much else, some works overtly serving the purposes of the state. In stylehis music is often astringent in harmony, but with a characteristically Russian turn ofmelody and, whatever Shostakovich may have thought of it, a certain idiosyncratic gift fororchestration that gives his instrumental music a particular piquancy.
After the death of his father in July 1910 Prokofiev began toturn his attention to the commercial possibilities in the publication of his music, butwithout immediate success. During the summer he also began to sketch a piano concerto,which he completed early in 1912. This was performed in Moscow and at Pavlovsk, outsideSt. Petersburg, with Prokofiev making his first appearance as a soloist with an orchestra.
The concerto had a mixed reception, wild enthusiasm from some and marked disapproval fromothers, to the composer's equal gratification. The concerto, after all, marked asignificant change in Russian music, from the romanticism of Rachmaninov and Scriabin to anew world of clear and sometimes harsh contours. His Sonata No.2 in D minor, Opus 14, was completed at theend of August 1912 and first performed in Moscow at the Conservatory on 23rd January 1914.
It was dedicated to a fellow-student, Maksimilian Shmitgoff, a close friend, who hadcommitted suicide, informing Prokofiev of his intention by letter when prevention wasimpossible. The first movement of the sonata, relatively spare in texture, opens with aduple rhythm theme against a lower register triplet accompaniment, capped by a syncopatedsection that makes practical use of dissonance. A sustained chord in the lower registerleads to a secondary theme in waltz rhythm, marked pi?? mosso and impelled onward by motorrhythms that are very characteristic of the composer, leading to a lyrical passage,followed by a development of this material. In a recapitulation the first theme returns inthe lower register, followed by the other thematic material, now duly transposed andvaried, the movement ending in a coda that relies largely on the principal subject. Thesecond movement, an A minor Scherzo, calls for some intricacy of hand-crossing against thecontinuing quaver (eighth note) pattern, framing a central trio section. The slow movementshifts to the tonality of G sharp minor in a tripartite structure that allows the materialof the first section a final development, marked con tristezza. The rapid last movement,impelled forward by its opening rhythm, includes a brief reference to the first movement.
In the summer of 1939, spent at Kislovodsk, Prokofiev metMaria-Cecilia Abramovna Mendelson, Mira, who replaced his foreign wife Lina in hisaffections, with a liaison that might have seemed more acceptable to the Sovietauthorities. It is from her that we learn that Prokofiev had been reading at this timeRomain Rolland's book on Beethoven and that this strongly influenced his sixth, seventhand eighth sonatas, works that he wrote simultaneously during the following years. Hecompleted SonataNo.7 only in 1942 and it was first performed at the Hall of Columns in Moscowon 18th January of the following year by Sviatoslav Richter. The latter later wrote of thedisorder and uncertainty and raging of death-dealing forces in the sonata with thecontinuation of what man lives for, love and the affirmation of life. The sonata wasawarded a Stalin Prize, Second Class, the first of five such official awards thatProkofiev would receive. The first movement, marked Allegro inquieto, starts with an openingphrase, unharmonized and suggesting in its conclusion the tonality of B flat. Before longthe two strands of melody diverge, leading to syncopations of greater stridency. Asecondary theme appears in an Andantino section, part of a modified sonata-allegrostructure. The second movement Andante calorosois in E major, now with a key signature, a feature absent in the first movement. Thesinging melody in an inner part, followed closely in the bass, leads to a central sectionof varied tonalities and textures, before the final return of the material of the opening,much abridged. The sonata ends with a final movement in 7/8 metre, perceived as 2+3+2.
Marked Precipitato, the material is dominated by this asymmetrical rhythmic pattern, toend in a final affirmative and unambiguous B flat major.
is in marked contrast to the preceding work. Dedicate