GRAMOPHONE. Prokofiev Vol. 1/2

January 1994

Prokofiev piano works

Volumes 1 and 2. Oleg Marshev (pf). Danacord (Full price) (CD) DACOCD391/2 (two discs: 74 and 64 minutes: DDD).

DACOCD391: Sonatas-No. 6 in A, Op. 82; No. 7 in B flat, Op. 83. Dumka. Visions fugitives, Op. 22.

DACOCD392: Sonatas-No. 1 in F minor, Op. 1; No. 8 in B flat, Op. 84. Four Pieces, Op. 3. Three Pieces, Op. 59. The tales of an old grandmother, Op. 31.

Oleg Marshev’s Prokofiev is the complete antithesis of Chiu’s. Marshev prefers the dynamic, full-throated volcanic approach (though he is certainly not afraid to allow lyricism into the music when called upon to do so) and he is also more of a charismatic performer, allowing greater interaction between pianist and music, and hence greater involvement for the listener. Volume one of his complete survey opens with a commanding, virtuosic performance of the Sixth Sonata which compared to Chiu simply teems with detail and subtle nuance. The second movement Allegretto is delivered with tremendous flair and elan in the outer sections, and the phlegmatic third movement is beautifully paced and crafted. Marshev unleashes the full power of his formidable armoury in the tumultuous finale, where in the closing bars he almost hits boiling-point in terms of sheer virtuosity; his performance may not quite reach those of Kissin or Pogorelich but this is certainly a recording that I would be happy to live with. In contrast, the early Dumka (here receiving only its second recording) is given a beautifully poised and effortless reading, and the same can be said of Marshev’s extremely fine account of the Visions fugitives, which can be added to the growing throng of commendable recordings in the catalogue. Marshev concludes the first volume with a stunning account of the Seventh Sonata, which to my mind approaches Pollini’s classic recording for its breadth of vision, dynamic control and sheer virtuosity; pianistically it has all one could wish for-superb rhythmic impetus, tremendous force, wonderful phrasing and in the slower, more reflective moments beautiful tonal control and expressive nuance. The fearsome, toccata finale can only be compared to Pollini’s scorching reading for its accuracy and heart-pounding excitement, and indeed after his recording this would be my clear first choice. Recording is full bodied.

Marshev’s second disc is every bit as impressive as his first. The short, youthful First Sonata can only be played for what it is, a tremendous outpouring of late-romantic gesture-and that’s exactly how Marshev tackles it; the result is one of the most authoritative and impassioned, romantic performances on disc so far. Berman’s account on Chandos has been my first choice up to now, but I have no hesitation in promoting this newcomer as my primary recommendation. Berman of course is the obvious point of reference for the shorter pieces presented on this disc too, and although Marshev’s performances of The tales of an old grandmother and the Four Pieces, Op. 3 and Three Pieces, Op. 59 do not possess the same degree of delicate shading and coloration as Berman’s, they are nevertheless imbued with great sensitivity and poise; the Op. 59 pieces, I thought, were particularly well drawn and enjoyable. Sadly, Marshev lets the side down rather badly in the first movement of the Eighth Sonata (allegro moderato, bar 90 onwards), where he goes against the written pianissimo and piano markings by playing mezzo forte and forte-no one has ever quite matched Richter’s spellbinding reading of this passage. That flaw is a pity, when in all other aspects this is a very fine performance, not least his exceptionally serene and lyrical account of the slow movement. The recorded sound of both volumes has a slightly over-resonant bloom (especially in the more forceful passages), but otherwise is nicely focused and warmly atmospheric. I greatly look forward to future installments in this cycle.