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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

  • Piano Sonata #5 in C major, Op. 38/135
  • Piano Sonata #6 in A Major, Op. 82
  • Pensées (Thoughts), Op. 62
  • Music for Children, Op. 65
  • Morning
  • Promenade
  • A Little Story
  • Tarantella
  • Regret
  • Waltz
  • March of the Grasshoppers
  • The Rain and the Rainbow
  • Playing Tag
  • March
  • Evening
  • The Moon Strolls in the Meadow
Yury Martynov, piano
Zig-Zag Territories ZZT346 71:24
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Yury Martynov has won several prestigious international piano competitions, including the 1999 Salzburg-based Mozart International Piano Competition. He graduated from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory where he studied with Mikhail Voskressensky. He has been on the faculty of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory since 1994 and has regularly appeared throughout Europe, the US and Japan as soloist with major orchestras, with chamber ensembles and in recital. He has also made a number of recordings featuring works by C.P.E. Bach, Liszt, Mozart, Schumann and others. This is apparently his first disc of works by Prokofiev.

From the evidence here, it seems Martynov is naturally attuned to Prokofiev's unique idiom: he clearly grasps the difference between Prokofiev's playful and menacing sides, and he understands that the composer's lyricism can often be pungent and even anti-Romantic. That said, he also understands that despite the many examples of Prokofiev's motoric rhythms and sardonic moods, his music thrives on his unique melodies and harmonies. Martynov is best in the three pieces comprising Pensées and the dozen in Music for Children. In the latter set, he catches the whimsy, innocence, playfulness and wistfulness with such feeling, always seeming to capture the mood, even if he is occasionally somewhat on the slow side as with #1 Morning and #3 A Little Story. In Pensées he is equally attuned to the mood of the music, to its somewhat dry and Gallic character.

In the sonatas, though his performances are generally solid, he is less effective. While his playing is always spirited and very subtle with many gradations of dynamics, he sometimes seems a bit too hasty or almost haphazard: the opening of the Sixth Sonata, for example, is murky in its pedaling and somewhat rushed; and the third movement waltz, while phrased nicely lacks weight, lacks a sense of the epic you hear in performances by Cliburn, Richter and other pianists. The finale sounds a bit rushed in the outer sections, though the pianist's brilliant technique, especially in the fast music following the middle section, is spectacular. The Fifth Sonata is presented in its revised version here, though the booklet gives only opus 38, as if it is the original. The performance of the work fares better than the Sixth as Martynov deftly captures the often quirky character of the piece with a fine sense for its brashness and whimsy. Still, he sometimes tends to skim over notes in faster passages, sort of reducing the scale of the piece, turning what should be a rippling flow into a hasty patter. Yet, his interpretation fits an intelligently conceived mold that many will hear as a subtle rendering that is both edgy and tastefully restrained. Overall, his performances of the sonatas will have a fair number of admirers for its less percussive and high-strung approach. Glemser, Raekallio, Boris Berman and others are generally more compelling in the sonatas, however.

The sound reproduction is clear and the album notes are informative. For Prokofiev mavens this CD will have much appeal and others wanting an especially different take on the sonatas as well as fine interpretations of the other pieces may find this a worthy acquisition.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings