Classical CD Reviews

PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonatas 1-5 – Alexandra Silocea, piano – Avie

A young Romanian pianist provides flair and musical sense to the passionate and often elusive first five sonatas of Serge Prokofiev.

Published on May 12, 2011

PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonatas 1-5 – Alexandra Silocea, piano – Avie

PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonatas 1-5 = No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 1; No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 14; No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 28; No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 29; No. 5 in C Major, Op. 135 – Alexandra Silocea, piano – Avie AV2183, 65:16 [Distr. By Allegro] ****:

The first of a two-volume survey (rec. 6-9 September 2010) of the complete Prokofiev piano sonatas by Romanian Alexandra Silocea (b. 1984), this premier album may turn out to be the revelation, given the refreshed temperament of her realization of those early works–like the passionately romantic one-movement Op. 1 (1906)–that too often receive short shrift in recitals. The No. 5 in C Major (1924; rev. 1953)–and Prokofiev himself claimed “no one understands it”–barely has a reputation even today. Ms. Silocea performs on the Steinway D 573565 beautifully captured by engineer Philippe Petit.

After the compressed intensities of the F Minor Sonata, Op. 1, Silocea attacks the D Minor Sonata, Op. 14 (1912) whose inner-voice staccati present a new non-legato lyricism in music, angular and ironically driven. Silocea brings out the occasional drooping waltz-figurine in the development, the runs frothy and crystalline at once. The Scherzo–Allegro marcato reveals the Prokofiev of the more savage character who could conceive the Scythian Suite. The tender (and diatonic) Andante movement raises the image of the sonata’s dedicatee, Maximilian Schmidthof, who took his own life in 1913. The last movement surges forward in tarantella style, the runs, skips, and leaps mere volatile compounds on which Silocea might practice her quicksilver alchemy.

The one-movement Third Sonata (1917) takes its tempests–an E Major chord followed by a toccata–from the political climate of the Revolution, the thick texture of the opening swarming with cross rhythms. All sorts of metric fluctuations invest the piece–along with its peculiar chromaticism–with an iconoclastic character that answers to few antecedents. C Major competes with D Minor and a rapid scale F-E-D-F that serves like a Schumann anagram for some aggressive transformation. Double thirds and clusters of tones burst forth, often accompanied by sustained pedal tones, all of which Silocea negotiates with thunderous aplomb. The last chord has left us a bit exhausted.

The 1918 C Minor Sonata reverts to the more classical three movements, of which the opening Baroque-styled movement casts alternately granite and ringing chords, clarion and rife with shadows. The bass motive occasionally hints at the Op. 44 Polonaise of Chopin.  Diaphanous right hand chords follow an elastic trail into glittery provinces of oriental languor. The Andante, the work’s central axis, makes a Russian counterpart for Chopin’s funereal B-flat Minor Sonata or Beethoven’s Moonlight, although Prokofiev’s rolling and translucent arpeggios soon dissipate and regroup in obsessively lugubrious waves. Although hardly an “octopus,” Silocea manages a convincing toccata for the  wild ride of the Allegro con brio which invites a brilliant percussive patina. Wicked clarity marks Silocea’s performance, which moves forward even in the midst of a limping motive that thrusts itself forward with a kind of voluptuous temerity.

The C Major Sonata (1923) derives its Neo-Classic impulse from Mozart’s “easy” Sonata in C, K. 545, but Prokofiev has his own ideas that trace out French influences. Running and loping figures alternate in a thick mixture, the bass another of those manic ostinati that haunt Prokofiev. Silocea no less finds the diatonic moments a tonic amidst the complexities of rhythm and pulsation, and her performance enjoys a finesse and repose from happy familiarity with this elusive music. A bluesy integration of plodding left-hand chords and right hand whimsy moves the Andantino, whose cloying trills seem to mock several Classical conventions. A kind of balletic series of turns and roulades makes the da capo fascinating. A blazing series of scales–some even in C Major–hurry the finale along, a movement on which Prokofiev labored in his last mortal days. We can hear direct progressions from Stravinsky’s Petrushka, whether in homage or parody a good question. Then, a French boulevardier impulse takes over and merges with Stravinsky, perhaps the ultimate alchemy of the best of the two cultures that pervade the Prokofiev style.

–Gary Lemco

 




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