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Classic CD. Prokofiev Vol.1/2

CLASSIC CD
May 1998

Prokofiev Piano Sonatas 6, 7 & 8
The Top five discs

…The expressive depth of these sonatas is unprecedented in Prokofiev’s work. They are also technically among the most daunting works ever written for the piano. The challenge for any pianist is to surmount their technical difficulties in order to fully reveal their expressive content. Drawing up a shortlist of recordings has highlighted casualties from recent deletions such as Peter Donohoe’s EMI cycle. Of complete recordings still available but not shortlisted, Ashkenazy’s on Decca sounds impatient and aggressive, as if he’s played the music too often. John Lill (ASV), living up to his reputation for stolid reliability, shows no feeling whatsoever for Prokofiev’s lyricism. Yakov Kasman’s complete sonata cycle on Galliope is a bargain on just two discs; his readings are dramatic, but tend on the eccentric, even; rather more fatally, there are times when his technique is not quite enough to master Prokofiev’s sometimes terrifying demands. The few pianists who meet Prokofiev’s challenge are:

  • Berman: scrupulous
  • Chiu: dazzling but dry
  • Richter: raw brilliance
  • Ovchinikov: fresh view
  • CLASSIC CD CHOICE — Marshev: conviction

It would be foolish to pretend that Oleg Marshev gets everything “right” — no pianist has. For instance his Eighth Sonata, though memorably chilling, misses aspects — particularly the charm of the central movement — revealed by Richter and Ovchinikov. His performances are outstanding, though, not only for his impeccable technique and sense of poetry, but above all his sense of conviction: one always feels he knows what he is doing and is “living” the music.

His Sixth Sonata is easily the most convincing on disc, capturing both the unpleasant aggressiveness of its opening theme (taken at quite a deliberate but convincing speed) and the sensuous beauty of the contrasting lyrical second subject. After a sardonic second movement come the heart of the sonata, played daringly slowly with plenty of rubato: the result is wistful and genuinely “felt”. as if recalling a poignant memory. One might quibble that Marshev does not fade to pp at the movement’s end as Prokofiev asks, so missing some of its “sting in the tale”. The finale shows off his brilliant technique, and he captures perfectly the sheer panic that grips the music after the reappearance of the first movement’s men-acting motif.

Better still is his Seventh Sonata, with a particularly stunning central movement (track 14 on our cover CD) and propulsive finale.

The Eighth Sonata appears on a separate volume of Marshev’s complete Prokofiev piano series. On the plus side Marshev’s characterisation of the “musical box” theme is chilling and yet utterly haunting. That and the artfully created sense of weary disorientation add to a powerful conception, but anyone wanting a rounder picture of this work may be tempted to buy the Richter disc instead to go with Marshev’s Sixth and Seventh.

Daniel Jaffé

Classic CD. Rachmaninov

CLASSIC CD
March 2000

CLASSIC CD CHOICE
very impressive playing from a born Rachmaninov interpreter

Rachmaninov: Morceaux de fantasie op.3, Sonata n.2 in Bflat minor op.36 (revised version), Variations on a theme of Corelli, op.42.
Oleg Marshev / DANACORD DACOCD 525 / 67:18 DDD

Oleg Marshev: shows a natural kinship with Russia’s greatest composer-pianist 

Oleg Marshev scored something of a triumph with his Prokofiev sonata cycle on the Danacord label some years ago both in these columns and elsewhere. He has also recorded the Rubinstein Third and Fourth concertos and the Strauss Piano Sonata for the same label. Listening to these Rachmaninov performances, there is no doubt that he is a player in the grand manner, as befits his Moscow training and subsequent career as a prize-winner at the Pilar Bayona Festival in Spain, in Cincinnati and the Prima Premio Assoluto in Rome in 1992. Of these two Rachmaninov recitals, his conveys the greater authority and the more natural kinship with the composer. His account of all three pieces can be ranked along with the best in the catalogue. He possesses a strong musical personality and commands a wide range of keyboard colour and dynamics.

Continue reading Classic CD. Rachmaninov

CLASSIC CD. Sauer Vol.2

CLASSIC CD
March 1999

A tribute to vanished elegance

SAUER Etudes and Valses, Vol. 2
Oleg Marshev (piano) / Danacord DACOCD 488 / 72:36 DDD 

Emil Sauer (1862-1942), pupil of Liszt and virtuoso extraordinary, was also a composer of high merit, writing in many forms, large and small. This programme offers a judicious selection of the concert studies and waltzes which he composed throughout his adult life.

Oleg Marshev brings appropriate virtuosity and swagger to the studies, reminded us that such a style was essential for the adequate realization of such vintage fare. All 16 tracks offer pleasure to the ear. The music never emulates the poetic depth which Chopin brought to such forms, but it often recalls Liszt in its unashamed bravura. I particularly like the staccato study and the one for the left hand alone (more details?). The waltzes recall the salon rather then the concert hall but, played as they are here with grace and elegance, they sound well enough.

When Sauer composed the music, the age of the composer-pianist was drawing to a close, the curtain seeming to fall with Rachmaninov and Britten (although there is still composer-pianist Thomas Adès — Ed). Sauer was a lover of the Viennese scene and this well-recorded programme has more than a hint of nostalgia. Collectors will relish so tasteful a reminder of an age now buried beneath the tragedy of the Hapsburgs.

Geoffrey Crankshaw