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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

Naxos 8.553021

Piano Sonatas, Volume 1

  • Piano Sonata #2 in D minor, Op. 14
  • Piano Sonata #7 in B Flat Major, Op. 83
  • Piano Sonata #8 in B Flat Major, Op. 84
Bernd Glemser, piano
Naxos 8.553021 DDD 65:10
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Naxos 8.553069

Symphony #6

  • Symphony #6 in E Flat minor, Op. 111
  • Waltzes: Suite for Orchestra, Op. 110
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar
Naxos 8.553069 DDD 70:06
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Here is a pair of entries in two important Prokofieff cycles. The Glemser disc is the first in a project that will cover all the piano sonatas, and the Kuchar was the second issue in a set of the symphonies that has run to four discs thus far, with the Fourth only remaining. Hopefully, Kuchar, like Järvi and Rostropovich in their cycles, will give us both versions of this very interesting and underrated symphony.

I have only praise for Glemser here. His Seventh can easily rank with the best previous versions: Raekallio/Ondine, Pollini/DG, Douglas/RCA and Gould/Sony. I fail to understand the generally high praise accorded Horowitz in this work. His second movement is too fast for my taste, and his finale lumbers along rather innocuously. Period. Considering Naxos' budget price, this Glemser reading would be the Seventh of choice for almost anyone. It features the most compelling finale I've ever heard, and a first and second movement of great feeling and passion and clarity. But there's more: his Eighth, while not quite on the level of the Richter/DG and Joselson (which RCA ought to reissue), is a fine one; and his Second has to rank with the classic Graffman/Sony and the recent, very excellent Chiu/Harmonia Mundi.

The Kuchar Sixth is certainly a well rendered performance, but it falls a bit short of the Järvi/Chandos, Ozawa/DG, Previn/Philips and Weller/London performances. It is intelligently phrased and interpreted and idiomatically performed by this Ukrainian ensemble. What it lacks, though, is the precision and drama found in the other versions, particularly in the Järvi and Ozawa. Still, in the budget arena, it's worth the price of admission, especially considering the generous fillers: six waltzes culled from Cinderella, War and Peace, and Lermontov. Kuchar has shown himself to be one of the top Prokofieff conductors in the world: his reading of the enigmatic and powerful Second Symphony is the best by a wide margin; his Third is weirdly fascinating and individual; his Fifth and Seventh rival the best; and his take on other Prokofieff works in the series (like the Scythian Suite and the rarely heard The Year 1941 and On the Dnieper Suite) is completely convincing. Incidentally, the album's back cover and disc proclaim the Sixth's key as "E Flat Major" – but it's E Flat minor, as I list it in the headnote.

The sound on both releases is fine and the notes, as usual with Naxos, are informative. Both issues are certainly worth your while.

Copyright © 1998, Robert Cummings

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