PROKOFIEV Piano Sonatas Nos 6-8

Russian Giltburg takes on Prokofiev’s War Sonatas

Author: 
Bryce Morrison

Prokofiev_Piano Sonatas Nos 6-8

  • Sonata for Piano No. 6
  • Sonata for Piano No. 7
  • Sonata for Piano No. 8

Putting my head above a parapet, I have to say that these performances of Prokofiev’s three ‘War’ Sonatas (for Sviatoslav Richter music that evokes ‘a world without reason or equilibrium’) eclipse all others on record – even those tirelessly and justifiably celebrated performances by Richter and Gilels. Boris Giltburg is a young Russian but Israeli-based pianist whose blistering, all-inclusive technique allows him to range from the merest whisper (try the tolling funeral bells at the close of the Seventh Sonata’s central Andante caloroso) to an elemental uproar that never degenerates into coarseness or mere violence. The Sixth Sonata’s opening call to arms could hardly be more bellicose or articulate and the stress is very much on an uncompromising bleakness where everything is held in an iron grip.

There may be little time for passing whimsy in the same sonata’s Allegretto, yet listening to Giltburg in the slow movements of all three Sonatas is to hear a pianist as acutely sensitive to voicing and texture as he is heaven-storming. And here, too, is a flawless sense of Prokofiev’s mockery of an accessible style dear to the blinkered Russian authorities of his time. Tempi are on the wild side (Giltburg writes his own defence of his pace in the Precipitato 7/8 drumbeat finale of Sonata No 7, a far cry from Horowitz’s and Richter’s more measured view). Everything coheres in the astral wanderings of the Eighth Sonata’s first movement and when you hear Giltburg in the final pages of both this movement and the finale, with its suggestion of the last trump, you can only discard pen and paper and listen in awe and disbelief. The recordings are excellent and there is an illuminating essay by the pianist himself, where he writes of ‘war…in your face, marching towards you with dead eyes and it is not pleasant.’

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