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CD Review

Sergei Prokofieff

Naxos 8.573435

Childhood Manuscripts & Other Works

  • Old Grandmother's Tales, Op. 31
  • Six Pieces, Op. 52
  • Childhood Manuscripts:
  • Tarantella in D Minor
  • Pesenki (Little Songs), Series 2: #7
  • Melody in E Flat Major
  • Pesenki (Little Songs), Series 3 (excerpts)
  • Pesenki (Little Songs), Series 4 (excerpts)
  • Pesenki (Little Songs), Series 5 (excerpts)
  • Examination Fugue in D Major
  • Scherzo in D Major
Alexandre Dossin, piano
Naxos 8.573435 1:19:52
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This well filled disc – nearly eighty minutes of music – contains a mixture of juvenile compositions by Prokofiev as well as some later works, most of the latter group, however, being transcriptions mainly of orchestral works. Old Grandmother's Tales is a collection of four pieces for piano solo dating to 1918, making it rather early music as well, the product of a very busy twenty-seven year old composer who often appeared in concert as a pianist. One thing all the music has in common is that it is very rarely recorded or heard in the concert hall.

I have familiarity with only one other disc of Prokofiev's juvenile music for piano, that being from Frederic Chiu's multi-disc survey on Harmonia Mundi of virtually all of the composer's published solo piano works. Chiu's collection features eighteen pieces of juvenilia, and this one by Alexandre Dossin includes that exact number as well, though there appear to be differences in some of the selections. I have about half of Chiu's efforts in this genre and I can say right off, that good as he is in those pieces, Alexandre Dossin must be given a slight edge. Brazilian-born Dossin has recorded at least four previous discs for Naxos, two each containing music of Liszt and Kabalevsky. He seems to possess a natural affinity for the music of Prokofiev. His accounts of the four pieces comprising The Old Grandmother's Tales are excellent, fully competitive with versions by Chiu and Boris Berman. Further, his performances of the Op. 52 Six Pieces rival or surpass other versions I have heard by Berman and others. The first three of these pieces are transcriptions from Prokofiev's ballet The Prodigal Son, and Dossin clearly captures the spirit of the music nicely, though I do believe his tempo for #2, Rondo, is bit too leisurely. His account of the Scherzino, from Prokofiev's Songs Without Words, for voice and piano, later for violin and piano, is beautifully and subtly played, with just the right dynamics and blend of legato.

The juvenile works are interesting in showing the development of Prokofiev, but most of them sound little like the music that would come from his pen in just a few years. The Melody in E flat Major features a very beautiful melody that many listeners will find most appealing, though the work sounds like Schumann, Schubert and even Chopin. Dossin's performance is utterly sensitive to the lyrical character of the piece and he wisely makes no attempt to play down its debt to the composers mentioned. In fact, he plays almost all the juvenile pieces in the proper spirit of their generally straightforward and derivative character.

Where he registers most strongly to me is in the March in F minor, from 1906. The later version of this piece by Prokofiev features more wit and is simply better. Alongside it, this early rendition of the March usually sounds like misguided early thoughts on the music. But Dossin gets much more out of the piece than I ever thought possible. Chiu delivered a convincing account of the work on his recording, keeping much in the spirit of the later version but thereby making it sound utterly inferior by comparison. Dossin tamps down the dynamics, avoiding any hint of bombast, and darkens the mood with more legato and an unhurried tempo. In the end, he draws out a measure of depth or at least of menace and mystery, giving the piece a new and rather colorful personality.

Overall, his performances on this CD are very convincing and one can only wish he returns to Prokofiev with a disc of sonatas or concertos. The sound reproduction here is vivid and the notes by Anthony Short are quite informative. Highly recommended to Prokofiev enthusiasts and those wanting to sample something off the beaten path.

Copyright © 2018, Robert Cummings