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Two Recent Prokofiev Recordings

available at Amazon
Yefim Bronfman, Perspectives
(released December 11, 2007)
Sony Classical 88697-21081-2
Yefim Bronfman is being featured this season in the Carnegie Hall Perspectives series, for which musicians are asked to put together their own concert series that explore their individual musical personalities. The opportunity has brought Bronfman into a press limelight, including a meaty feature by Anne Midgette (A Star Who Plays Second Fiddle to Music, December 15) in the New York Times last month, as well as a lot of coverage of his rush-hour charity concert in Grand Central Station. To mark the occasion, Sony has released this retrospective, bringing together some of the recordings the pianist made for the label in the 1990s. Bronfman bridles at being labeled a specialist in Russian music, but this 2-CD set, devoted to Bronfman's mastery of Russian composers, offers all of the reasons why that reputation remains. Affordably priced, it makes a good introduction to the Russian literature through Bronfman's capable hands.

The first three of the five Prokofiev concerti come from Bronfman's complete set recorded with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic. (Nos. 2 and 3 are scheduled for Bronfman at Carnegie Hall, on February 5 with the Royal Concertgebouw and March 1 with the Vienna Philharmonic.) As with so much of Prokofiev, there are piles and piles of notes: Bronfman gets them all (or a very high percentage) and finds the right tone of irony or fantasy in each movement. The sonatas -- my two favorites, no. 2 and no. 7 -- are explosively weighted but ultimately less convincing, especially no. 7, recorded in 1987. It is a work that Bronfman would undoubtedly record even more solidly and musically today. More recent solo recordings give a better impression of Bronfman's pianism, selections from his Tchaikovsky Seasons and Balakirev's Oriental fantasy Islamey. I was already sorry to miss Bronfman's Shriver Hall recital last month, where he played Islamey (the same program as the December 17 recital at Carnegie Hall).

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Piano Concerto, 2nd movement
BBC Proms, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Yefim Bronfman,
conducted by the composer (July 30, 2007)

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Lise de la Salle, Mozart/Prokofiev
(released April 24, 2007)
Naïve V 5080
All this Prokofiev brought to mind another recent release, a solo double album by French prodigy Lise de la Salle. It is one disc of exquisite Mozart, with each note set carefully in place by her delicate, shaded touch, and another of raucous Prokofiev. This recording made the recommended list for 2007 that Jens offered at the WETA blog, and it makes me regret even more the circumstances that did not allow me to attend her 2007 recital at the Strathmore Mansion, where she played this very program (Mark Estren reviewed for the Post), not to mention her 2004 debut recital at the Terrace Theater.

Her Prokofiev selections include the outrageously virtuosic, especially the four-minute wild ride of the op. 11 toccata, but also the single-movement third sonata. Unlike Bronfman, de la Salle does not push the tempo as fast as she probably could (at 4:32, well behind 16-year-old Claire Huangci at the stunning but unnecessary 3:45, Martha Argerich at the near-perfect 4:12, and even Prokofiev's own piano roll at 4:22), although she plays at a vicious clip when it suits what she is trying to do in shaping the piece. Much of the most interesting playing comes in the selections from the Romeo and Juliet suite, in which de la Salle often stretches and distorts the musical fabric in the quest for some new color or texture.

Some listeners may not like it because it is not what they expect if they have previously formed ideas about Prokofiev, but others like to be surprised sometimes. To these ears, it bodes well for de la Salle's forthcoming concerto recording, which will include the first Prokofiev concerto. The 30-minute DVD (Lise de la Salle, Majeure, directed by Jean-Philippe Perrot) included in this release has some excerpts from the concerto recording sessions in Lisbon, as well as lovely footage of the pianist speaking (sometimes with her mother) and playing at La Roque d'Anthéron and at George Sand's home at Nohant.

Prokofiev, Toccata in D minor, op. 11
Lise de la Salle, piano

As for the Mozart, her reading of the little A minor rondo (K. 511) brilliantly captures the sly, seductive qualities of the piece, in a way that makes Richard Egarr's otherwise capable performance on his recent recording seem almost prosaic. Two variation sets, the last movement of the (complete) D major sonata, K. 284, and the famous C major variations on Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman, K. 265, occasionally startle in their sparkly flash. Then she plays the penultimate variation as a sad French song, which of course the theme is, in a funny way, bringing out the similarities to Michel Legrand. All the more remarkable in that Lise de la Salle will be 20 years old this year.

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