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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

War Sonatas

  • 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
Boris Giltburg, piano
Orchid Classics ORC100023 73m
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Along with #3, these are the most popular of Prokofiev's nine piano sonatas. The 7th has always been a recital favorite and is still programmed more often than the others in the cycle, though 6th and 8th are, I believe, slightly more substantive works. The 6th is a dynamic piece, full of tension and triumph amid death-defying struggles. The 8th is a profound work of great depth, mostly sad and darkly tragic, but restrained, as if emotion must be held back. The 7th, of course, is an epic work, full of drama and ending in great if somewhat frenetic triumph.

Moscow-born Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg (b. 1984) presents utterly compelling performances of each one of these masterpieces. A student of Arie Vardi, he won the silver medal at the 2011 Artur Rubinstein Competition in Israel and was also given the award for best concerto performance there. Giltburg also won, in effect, the 2002 Santander (Paloma O'Shea) Competition in Spain, capturing the silver medal when no first prize was awarded.

On this Orchid CD of Prokofiev's War Sonatas Giltburg turns in performances that are competitive with the best versions of the 6th and 8th sonatas. His 7th is certainly brilliantly played too, but the finale is a tad fast and lacking slightly in muscle. The first movement of the 6th is powerful and terrifying, as it should be, and the finale is utterly riveting. I don't know if I've heard a better 8th: Giltburg catches all the music's depth, its weird sound world, its hushed sadness, and its ominous bursts of energy. His phrasing of that dark, quiet second theme in the first movement is haunting and utterly hypnotic. This is a performance to match or surpass any by Richter, Gilels, Glemser or anyone. The 6th may be equaled by Richter, Glemser, Cliburn and a few others, but Giltburg takes on a more kinetic and colorful manner than anyone I've heard, turning in a performance quite different and fully satisfying.

Giltburg has a way in all the sonatas of infusing life into seemingly mundane phrases, phrases other pianists treat as reposeful or less significant. Indeed, he so often finds meaningful detail to bring out in the music that you seldom hear in other accounts. Try the fading chords at the close of the 8th sonata's development section (beginning around 9:11) and notice how they are more threatening and ominous than in other performances. True, sometimes Giltburg's dynamics can sound a bit too calculated, as in the closing pages of the first movement of the 6th, where the contrast between fortes and pianos seems exaggerated and too sudden. But this is a minor matter and some listeners may well like the effect.

The sound reproduction on the disc is vivid and powerful, and the notes on the sonatas, provided by the pianist, are insightful and quite informative. Giltburg is a major talent on the scene, and I predict he will go far. To piano mavens and admirers of Prokofiev, this CD is a must!

Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings