Related Links

Recommended Links

Give the Composers Timeline Poster

Site News

What's New for
Early 2018?

Site Search

Follow us on
Facebook    Twitter


In association with
Amazon UKAmazon GermanyAmazon CanadaAmazon FranceAmazon Japan

CD Universe



Sheet Music Plus Featured Sale

CD Review

Sergei Prokofieff

Sorel 7/8/9

Complete Piano Sonatas

  • Piano Sonata #1 in F minor, Op. 1
  • Piano Sonata #2 in D minor, Op. 14
  • Piano Sonata #3 in A minor "From Old Notebooks", Op. 28
  • Piano Sonata #4 in C minor, Op. 29
  • Piano Sonata #5 in C Major, Op. 135 (Revised Version)
  • Piano Sonata #6 in A Major, Op. 82
  • Piano Sonata #7 in B Flat Major, Op. 83
  • Piano Sonata #8 in B Flat Major, Op. 84
  • Piano Sonata #9 in C Major, Op. 103
Natalia Trull, piano
Recorded - April, 1997
Sorel Classics SCCD007/8/9 3CDs 2:55:33 (52:40; 65:19; 57:43)
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

What is most welcome about Natalia Trull's interpretive approach to Prokofiev's nine piano sonatas is her keen sense to consistently point up the composer's humanity and deeper feelings, as well as to vividly portray his brusque and unsentimental side. Thus, she plumbs, usually successfully, for the deeper emotions and meanings in the music, as well as for the more immediate effects, colors and moods. She nearly always avoids the common tendency in Prokofiev's piano music to rush tempos, and she rarely ever tries to overpower or exaggerate the composer's already potent expressive manner. From among the twenty or so complete sets of these sonatas which I have or with which I am familiar, I would rank this one among the top two or three, with Bernd Glemser (Naxos) and Matti Raekallio (Ondine). That places her ahead of such notables as Yefim Bronfman, Frederic Chiu, Boris Berman, György Sándor and a string of others.

In the single-movement First Sonata Trull plays up both the work's edgy lyricism and its stormy drama. It's an epic sort of approach, and she doesn't attempt to downplay its debt to Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Overall, this is, without doubt, one of the finest versions of the First on record. In the Second Sonata's first and third movements Trull effectively captures the gloomy dreaminess and mystery with just the right amount of legato, while she delivers the Scherzo and Finale with the requisite acid, mischief and humor. Again, she gives this work a greater epic sense than what you usually encounter in other performances, and once more without exaggerating or underplaying dynamics, tempos or other elements of phrasing. True, the third movement's mesmeric character can come across as a little mechanical or stiff, but with her subtly applied dynamics and slightly expansive tempo Trull deftly creates a feeling the music is otherworldly, almost cruel in its inexorable tread toward frustration and resultant anger. Notice too her care and attention to detail in the finale, and how she beautifully yet somberly phrases the return of the first movement theme, and then seamlessly turns playful and mischievous. A great performance of the sonata then, one to rank with the very finest.

The Third Sonata, like the First is in one movement, but is far more advanced in its expressive language, despite Prokofiev's notation that the work is "From Old Notebooks". Some have speculated that the composer was asking to be judged leniently with this subtitle, but I doubt that's the case, not least because the work is a masterpiece, relatively modest and terse though it is. Moreover, it has become one of Prokofiev's most popular sonatas. Once again, Trull delivers a performance with careful attention to detail and with absolutely subtle dynamics, especially in the fast closing section. Here, she rivals Gary Graffman in his classic 1963 recording. Actually, I would give the edge overall to Trull and declare this now the new benchmark recording.

Trull's Fourth opens with an effective first movement, despite some odd accents and slightly eccentric phrasing. The second movement is the centerpiece of the work and Trull delivers a knockout performance, perfectly capturing the dark profundities of the main theme and the dreamy gentleness of the second theme. And when these two melodies are combined at the close of the movement, she mixes their seemingly disparate elements together to yield an even more ominous and mysterious character, as if the second theme were an ally to its sibling all along. (This is the only sonata movement Prokofiev ever recorded – brilliantly too – and the only one he ever made an orchestral version of.) The finale brims with energy and color, again with much significant detail emerging. I think Trull is convincing enough here to rival Richter, who made several recordings of this sonata – a work he was greatly fond of.

The Fifth Sonata is supposed to be somewhat difficult for listeners. Really, it's not in either of its two versions – Op. 38 (1923) and Op. 135 (1952-53). This is the only one of the nine that Prokofiev allowed to exist in two versions. Trull wisely chooses the later one, which is slightly more accessible and has a more dramatic and quite different ending. (Note: the album notes by Daniel Morrison correctly identify this version as the revised one from 1952-53, but Sorel Classics erroneously lists it as the original version, Op. 38 from 1923, thus leading numerous website retailers to misidentify it as well.) Some pianists play both versions in their complete sets, but the two works are not that dissimilar and choosing the course that Trull does here is certainly acceptable. Her performance is, once again, brilliant in its clarity, color and attention to detail. To anyone who previously found this sonata difficult in some way, I would recommend this version for the assets I've cited: Trull gets to the heart of this enigmatic work, warming up what some might hear as arid lyricism and deftly pointing up the humor, playfulness and mischief permeating this sonata. Boris Berman has a fine recording of the Fifth, but I'll give the edge here to Trull.

Trull produces a fine account of the Sixth, though the first two movements might have benefited from a little more energy and thrust. She captures the defiant spirit and epic quality of the music alright but slightly undermines the ominous character of the first movement and sense of playfulness in the second with her somewhat deliberate and plainspoken manner. Ultimately, she's still quite effective, but several recordings by Richter (the Carnegie Hall live performance from 1960 especially, bad sound and all) and Cliburn's RCA effort are hard for anybody to beat. Her Seventh is also compelling, especially her account of the middle movement. But there are moments in the first movement that are a little soft around the edges, moments that need a little more dynamism: her opening, for example, could be a bit more headlong and have more crispness in the percussive rhythmic chords. Her phrasing of the slow theme (Andantino), while sensitive to the desolate character of the music, at times sounds slightly calculated. The finale brims with energy and power, with plenty of bravura throughout. A fine account then, but there are somewhat better performances by Glemser, Matti Raekallio, Pollini, Boris Berman and Barry Douglas (ironically, the pianist who edged out Trull for the Gold Medal in the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Competition).

The Eight Sonata, the last in the trilogy of so-called "War Sonatas", may well be the most profound solo piano work written by Prokofiev. Arguably, it emerges that way in this excellent performance by Trull. Her broad tempos, sensitive phrasing and subtly applied dynamics allow her to bring out the huge range of ideas and mostly dark emotions in this great sonata. Her first movement is especially convincing, with the main theme and its cluster of variants and second subjects sounding so forlorn and tortured and the alternate theme utterly haunting in her sensitive phrasing. The second movement is beautifully played and while parts of the finale come across as a little tame, overall it is quite convincing too, especially in the closing pages. Some may think Trull's timing of nearly thirty-one minutes is just a bit too long, since typical performances run about twenty-seven or twenty-eight minutes. However, I dug out three 1970s recordings from my collection by, respectively, Lazar Berman, Steven De Groote, and Mark Zeltser. The first two were somewhat longer and Zeltser's effort, which was actually pretty good, won the oxymoronic slow race with a timing of 34:31! So, Trull is hardly extreme. This is one of her best performances in the set, challenging the finest previous accounts by Richter, Glemser, Giltburg, De Groote and Tedd Joselson.

Her performance of the Ninth is equally convincing. She perfectly captures the gentle lyricism and valedictory character in the first and third movements, and colorfully conveys the joy and humor in the even numbered movements. This was another sonata that Richter, who premiered the work, very much loved. I would say that Trull's performance may have the edge on the several versions he made of the Ninth.

Sorel Classics affords the pianist excellent sound reproduction, despite the fact the recording sessions date back to April, 1997. In sum, this is a benchmark set of its type in the Prokofiev sonatas: her performances are among or ahead of the best in all the sonatas except for the Sixth and Seventh, and even in these two she is still quite convincing and has something unique to say. Overall, Raekallio may be more dynamic and thrilling and Glemser more multifaceted and balanced, but Trull arguably delivers a more thoughtful and deeper approach than you're likely to encounter in any set. The obvious verdict here – highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2017, Robert Cummings