Vadym Kholodenko Plays Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 6, Visions Fugitives — Harmonia Mundi

by | Jul 3, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82; Things-in-Themselves, Op. 45; Four Pieces in Dance Form, Op. 32; Visions fugitives, Op. 22 – Vadym Kholodenko, piano – Harmonia mundi HMM 902659, 78:10 (6/26/20) [Distr. by PIAS] ****:

With a raucous succession of major and minor thirds, Serge Prokofiev opens his Sonata No. 6 in A Major of 1939-1944, the first of his “war sonatas.” The work would herald a new, un-Romantic approach to musical composition that looked to an intensification of pulse and percussion as its raison d’etre, especially since the music would reflect the crisis of the WW II sensibility. Militant and aggressive, the Allegro moderato permits few episodes of relative calm and consolation, the bitonal motto theme repeating itself some forty times in an obsessive clamor that will embrace six octaves before the final cadence that ends this grueling passion.  Kholedenko, much in the manner of the original master of the music, Sviatoslav Richter, assumes a relentless pose, wringing our hearts in the colors of emotional trial and austerity. 

The ensuing Allegretto proffers a brisk march in four staccato beats, music of wit and lyricism at once, somewhat akin to his Mercutio in the Romeo and Juliet ballet.  The middle section, espressivo, bestows an air of beguilement, of quizzical mystery.  The left hand realizes descents in arpeggios that contrast with the gruff muscularity of the return to the march.  The ensuing Tempo di valzer, lentissimo, set in 9/8 time, conveys the wistful melancholy of the composer’s Romeo from the Op. 64 ballet, although the movement’s middle section reveals a potent menace. Yet the sense of vulnerability remains the operative affect, especially as rendered by Kholodenko. Marked Vivace, the finale pits the voice of mercy and fellowship against an onslaught of barbarism. Motions from the first movement appear, now caught in the maelstrom. The conflict, in the form of a virulent toccata, embraces both B-flat and D Major, an admission of the ambiguities of Fate, the horror and the pity of War.  The glitter and sparkle that emerge from Kholodenko may hint more at the model of Emil Gilels than the ferocious Richter, but the recording from September 2019 brings a confident luster entirely its own.

In 1928, Prokofiev produced, under the spell of Immanuel Kant, two pieces in C Major he calls Things-in-Themselves.  Kant, following Plato, distinguished between phenomena (appearances) and noumena (essences), the latter unapproachable except by pure intellect. Each piece proceeds in sections: the first, Allegro moderato, moves from martellatos to pianissimos, meditative. At the Un poco animando, in B-flat, a sense of melody emerges. A kind of recapitulation begins in D Major that announces a renewal of energy. Marked Moderato scherzando, the second piece assumes the Prokofiev of the Op. 17 Sarcasms, light and rife with piercing staccati. The work proceeds, Andante, now quite expressive of classic Prokofiev. Prokofiev then synthesizes his conflicting impulses, harmonically and polyphonically. This diptych proves quite substantial on its own terms, a true flight of imaginative fancy. 

Portrait Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev,
circa 1918

Having emigrated to America in 1918, Prokofiev received commissions for pieces, and his Op. 32 rather parallels the same set and number of his admired Robert Schumann. The opening Dance, an Allegretto in F-sharp minor, moves in 4/4, con eleganza, but invested with wit, expressed in wide intervals, rising arpeggios, and perky staccatos.  The Minuet proceeds in B-flat Major, a rather conventional design and mood. The Gavotte, a martial Allegro non troppo in F-sharp minor, embodies an antique dance form Prokofiev favored, using it in his Op. 25 Symphony and his Romeo and Juliet. The use of arpeggios and shifting chord progressions makes the final Valse: Lento espessivo in E-flat minor an indication of the inventiveness with which Prokofiev could enrich an old form, the favorite of Tchaikovsky, with a breadth worthy of a score for War and Peace and the Op. 87 Cinderella.  

Taking his cue from the poet Konstantin Balmont, Prokofiev fashioned twenty miniatures between 1915-1917, “fleeting visions. . .worlds, full of the changing play of rainbows.” Epigrammatic and brief, these works look both to Webern and Scriabin, cross-fertilized by Debussy. The pieces consciously avoid easy classification, and each pianist loves the set entire of selected gems, none of which exceeds two-and-one-half minutes to perform.  Their textures and almost dainty fragility resonate and disappear, like shadows or the colors in the gutters after a brief, summer shower.  Kholodenko donates the set as a whole, a rare treat that never ceases to tempt us to seek a little deeper into the moment.

–Gary Lemco