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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Nimbus 6336

The Piano Sonatas 2

  • Sonata #1 in F minor, Op. 1
  • Sonata #2 in D minor, Op. 14
  • Sonata #9 in C Major, Op. 103
Ilya Yakushev, piano
Nimbus Alliance NI6336 47:36
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Ilya Yakushev has received a number of awards and prizes in his relatively brief career, including first prize and the Cincinnati-based World Piano Competition in 2005. He studied at the Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music in St. Petersburg, Russia and also at the Mannes College of Music in New York with Arkady Aronov and Vladimir Feltsman.

This is volume two of his complete traversal of the Prokofiev piano sonatas for Nimbus. The first issue in the series contained sonatas #3, 6 and 7, which unfortunately I missed. I say "unfortunately", because from the evidence on this new disc, Yakushev exhibits strong, perhaps even extraordinary talent, as well as a fine grasp of Prokofiev's style. The performances are all vital and intelligently conceived: nothing here ever drags or turns wayward, and the multi-faceted sides of Prokofiev, from the serenity and gently valedictory character of the Ninth Sonata to the pungent, percussive and dark style of the Second, emerge with a fully convincing manner that place the performances among the better ones on record. Even the First Sonata, which sounds like a collage of Rachmaninov, Scriabin and the young Prokofiev himself, is completely convincing. It is a spirited, stormy account that makes about as strong a case for this work as most listeners will ever encounter.

The Second and Ninth are pretty much on the same level. The third movement of the Second is especially persuasive, as the dreamy and mysterious music is phrased in a subtly mesmerizing way that brilliantly sets you up for the nightmarish climaxes. In Yakushev's hands the lyrical music in the Ninth's first and third movements flows warmly and is tinged with a lovely sadness. In none of these three works is there a major misstep and I can only note one minor transgression: the finale to the Second comes across in a few places as a bit too percussive.

I thus have no problem awarding this disc a high recommendation, but there may be two factors that will come into play for some potential buyers: the disc's timings is only 47:36 and the competition in this repertory is fierce, with excellent complete sets by Raekallio (Ondine), Glemser (Naxos), Boris Berman (Chandos), Bronfman (Sony), Frederic Chiu (Harmonia Mundi), and scads of others, including an old one by György Sándor on Vox. The sound on this new Nimbus disc is excellent and the notes by Prokofiev biographer Daniel Jaffé are highly detailed and enlightening. If Prokofiev's piano sonatas are of interest to you, you certainly won't be let down by this fine disc.

Copyright © 2017, Robert Cummings