Sony Classical Great Performances 82876-78743-2, 67:07 ****:
This all-Prokofiev CD splices together two CBS LP Stereo recordings: MS 6925 (25 March 1966) and MS 6444 (7, 26 December 1962), both of which displayed the percussively brilliant technique of Gary Graffman in Russian fare. His earlier inscription of Mousorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (ML 5791) had already made a sensation, as had his Schubert Wanderer Fantasy, yet to be reinstated into the current CD catalogue. In a brief interview, Graffman acknowledged that he made the switch from RCA to CBS specifically for a better recorded sound. George Szell (1897-1970), while not particularly sympathetic to Prokofiev, did inscribe a pungent Fifth Symphony. Admittedly, via pupil Robert Shaw, Szell had problems reading asymmetric meters, like 5+2, which in Shaw’s words, too often devolved into 6-1!
The two concertos receive bravura treatment, as well they should. I might find it hard to distinguish Graffman’s C Major Concerto from that of Byron Janis, since each brings a steely patina and lavish finish to the chromium of the material. Szell gets excellent woodwind work for the theme and variations Andantino. Like the Third Sonata of 1917, the Concerto combines hard-edged brilliance with tenderness. The last movement pulls out the stops and alternates a whirlpool with a song of yearning. The D-flat Concerto of 1911 still impresses with its brash, bold audacity. While none can quite equal Sviatoslav Richter in this punishing, witty music, Graffman delivers an idiomatic, exciting performance. Again, orchestral intonation is on the expected Szell level of craftsmanship.
The D Minor Sonata was required reading for Jean Casadesus’ piano class. Prior to Graffman’s CBS LP, I had never heard it on record. Sentimentality and spite seem to be its two dominant affects. The Scherzo is a little danse macabre of real power. The Andante might be Prokofiev’s attempt to create a French-style melos akin to Debussy. Graffman makes short work of the knotty finale, a moto perpetuo tied to moments of tender reflection, already an adumbration of the Third Concerto. The A Minor Sonata begins ablaze with rhythmic fire, then yields to a Moderato of lyrical persuasiveness. Graffman pretty much swallows its one movement form whole. Reissue engineering by Andreas K. Meyer provides a solid piano sound, with a natural top and no ping-like distortion.
— Gary Lemco