PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-9 / Natalia Trull, pianist / Sorel Classics SC CD 007/8/9
Here’s a rare case of a relatively unknown pianist, coming out of nowhere with a recorded set of major piano sonatas made two decades ago, who astonishingly pushes all contemporary competitors into the dust. If you Google Natalia Trull’s name, you’re going to be disappointed. There’s a pitifully small bio, mostly out of date, on Music Fest Perugia:
Nataliya Trull began studying the piano in St. Petersburg. She later moved to Moscow where she graduated from the Moscow Conservatory. Among her teachers were professors Y. Zak, M. Voskresensky and T. Kravchenko.
Her performance career was launched when she won first prize at the Belgrade International Piano Competition in 1983. However, the biggest success came in 1986 she won the silver medal at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. The public was swept off its feet by her interpretation of composers such as Schubert and Stravinsky. Her “Petroushka” suite left an everlasting impression on the public and critics alike. In 1993, Nataliya Trull was awarded the Grand Prix at the Piano Masters Competition in Monte-Carlo (where only winners of international competitions are accepted as participants).
Nataliya Trull’s complete control and fantastic virtuosity place her in a class of her own, and she is in great demand as a performer all over the world. Among the distinguished orchestras with whom she has performed are the London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre de Monte-Carlo, Tonhalle Symphony Orchestra and all of the major Russian Symphony Orchestras. Natalia Trull has also played with such conductors as Raphael Frubeck de Burgos, Raymond Leppard, Jean-Bernard Pommier, Eri Klas, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Vassily Sinaisky, Yuri Temirkanov and many others.
And then there’s this on a website called Quora.com:
Where is Natalia Trull?
Does she still play? Her Prokofiev 3 was stunning.
Posted by Lukasz Yoder, Been pianist in the making for the past 12 years:
My mother is a good friend of hers. Mrs. Trull presently teaches in the Moscow Conservatory of Music, and many of her students have won top prizes (relatively) recently. I recall my mother and her listening on Youtube to one of her students play on the final round of the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition—apparently her student was unaware he had made it to the final round from the semi finals until 24 hours before the competition—he practiced twelve hours non-stop! Unfortunately he did not get anything, but still, quite an accomplishment.
To summarize, she may be taking a break from concertizing, but she is definitely still active as a teacher/lecturer. I also hope she will play more concerts soon—but age takes a toll on everyone.
And that’s it. She came, she won competitions, she gave concerts, she went into teaching. And now, out of nowhere, we suddenly get her 1997 recordings of the Prokofiev sonatas.
In December of last year, I reviewed the second CD of a planned three by Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev on Nimbus Alliance of Prokofiev Sonatas Nos. 1, 2 and 9, and called the performances “stunning.” They were indeed. Yakushev played them with tremendous cohesion and “binding” of phrases, and he had a nice headlong momentum that compared favorably to the legendary 1956 recordings of sonatas 6, 7 and 9 by Sviatoslav Richter, though Richter was much more fiery in certain passages.
Upon first approaching the Trull set, I immediately noted that her movement timings were slower than Yakushev and slower yet than Richter. Normally, this does not bode well. It usually means slack performances that don’t penetrate the angst of the music or produce great dynamism. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although I did note that Trull relaxed the tempo a shade more than Yakushev in slow passages, taken on their own these performances don’t sound slower than his, although both Trull and Yakushev sound much slower than Richter,. who bulldozes through them at an astonishing pace.
Wondering about this, I pulled up the score of the Sonata No. 7 to check for myself. Surprisingly, Prokofiev wrote no metronome markings, though the movements have unusual titles: “Allegro inquieto,” “Andante calorioso” and “Precipitato.” Here, see for yourself:
But please note that, although there are no tempo markings, there are numerous dynamics markings, including the opening bar played mp, changing to p in bar five, not opening up into a mf until bar 8, and not really roaring until the poco a poco crescendo beginning in bar 12. Richter doesn’t start mp but, rather, in mf, and his passing attempts at a true piano are mere lip service. Trull gives you all of these, and more; and she does this in page after page of sonata after sonata. After comparing Trull to Yakushev in Sonatas 1, 2 and 9, then comparing Yakushov to Richter in No. 9, and further comparing Trull to Richter in Sonata No. 7, I became more and more convinced that it was Natalia Trull who most closely penetrates the heart of this music. When needed, she has the fire and bold attack of Richter, and she makes more of the dynamics contrasts than both he and Yakushev in movement after movement.
This is, quite simply, an astonishing achievement. I can’t even think of another pianist who has played these sonatas better, and that includes Richter, whose performances I now view as a one-off, not necessarily what the composer called for (but still valid in its own way). Another good example of how fantastic she is is the final “Vivace” of the Second Sonata. Yakushev plays it with wonderful clarity of line, as does Trull, but Trull sounds as if she is setting the keyboard on fire and then eating it. She has a way of “dashing” certain passages off as if they were splashes in a pond, yet still articulating cleanly and clearly. And this woman only won the SILVER medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition? Who won the gold, God? (It puts me in mind of the 1935 Wieniawski Violin Competition, where the splendid Henri Temianka came in third. You scratch your head and wonder why until you find out that David Oistrakh came in second and Ginette Neveu came in first.)
In addition to all the musical excellences of her playing, Trull fully captures the dynamism and sense of surprise in every sonata. Absolutely nothing sounds static with her; this music is completely alive under her fingers. If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think these were live performances and not studio recordings, so vivid and vital are they.
Overall, the best word I could find to describe her performances was smoldering. The fire is always lit, even in soft passages. There is no “coasting,” no riding on the laurels of her superlative technique, as Martha Argerich has done for 40 years. Argerich is a paper tigress. Trull could eat her alive for breakfast and still have room for a dozen of these efficient machines who win competitions nowadays. That being said, even Trull could not make the Fifth Sonata, which I consider the weakest of the nine, sound interesting to me, although she did her best in the last movement to wake the music up. I was also struck, for the first time, by how much the second movement of the Sixth Sonata sounds like some of the music in his ballet Romeo and Juliet. In the third movement Trull pulls much more out of the music, expression-wise, than Richter did, but here Richter didn’t fully seem to understand what “Lentissimo” meant. Trull’s performance is a minute and a half longer than his, and gains in expression from this.
In certain passages, such as the opening of the Eighth Sonata, Trull creates real magic in the way she phrases and articulates the music. In the second movement of this work, she caresses the line and makes it sing in a way I’ve never quite heard before, almost making it sound like a tune from a Viennese operetta. In the second movement of the Ninth Sonata, she finds much more in the shifting rhythms of the middle section than others. Watching her old performances on YouTube, I noticed a difference in posture between her playing and that of a real idol of mine, Annie Fischer. Petite as she was, Fischer sat bolt upright at the keyboard; all of her power was generated by her muscular arms and shoulders. Trull, who appears to be a small-boned woman, hunches over the keyboard so that you rarely see her face. She attacks here instrument as if she has been sent by a wrecking crew to demolish the keyboard. There may be some shoulder motion here, but a close-up photo reveals that she had small, sloping shoulders. I think all her power is generated by her forearms and full-body energy. It’s quite astonishing to watch!
Needless to say, this recording is a must if you like Prokofiev and particularly the sonatas. No one else even comes close. You could listen to this set of records every day for the next five years and never tire of them, that’s how good they are.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley