Stefania Argentieri’s Brilliant Prokofiev

Prokofiev

PROKOFIEV: 6 Pieces from Cinderella. Piano Sonatas Nos. 6 & 1. 4 Études, Op. 2. Suggestion Diabolique, Op. 4, No. 4 / Stefania Argentieri, pno / Divine Art DDA 25156

This was a CD sent to me in error. I had requested an entirely different disc, but this is the one that showed up in my mailbox. I hadn’t requested it because I already own the greatest recording of the Prokofiev Piano Sonatas ever, by Natalia Trull, and didn’t feel that I needed to review this.

But I’m glad it came, because it is indeed very good.

Stefania Argentieri is a young Italian pianist (she graduated from the conservatory in 2009) who apparently loves to pose wearing high-heeled boots and standing over the back of a piano, her hand on the keyboard, while she smiles vapidly into the camera. But I won’t hold that against her because she is indeed very good in this repertoire.

This disc is Vol. 14 in Divine Art’s ongoing series of Russian Piano Music, each disc of which features a different composer (what’s the point?). I own the wonderful disc in this series (Vol. 2) of the music of little-known Vladimir Rebikov, played by the late and very fine pianist Anthony Goldstone, who worked for many years with his wife, Caroline Clemmow, as a duo-piano act. Argentieri opens her recital with the rather slight 6 Pieces from Cinderella, apparently hoping to break into the “easy listening” market on local classical radio stations. It is, quite honestly, insubstantial music played in a light vein, as it deserves, but in my view it was not necessary to include it on a one-disc compilation of Prokofiev’s piano music—not when there are the Op. 17 Sarcasms to include—although the third track, “The Quarrel,” is very interesting music. And it is in this piece that we first hear what Argentieri is capable of. She plays with great tensile strength and a very Russian sense of excitement despite her Italian roots, in addition to introducing some interesting moments of rubato.

Where she shows her true mettle is in the Piano Sonatas, played (again) boldly yet with interesting rubato touches. Here Argentieri nearly approaches Trull in her ability to get “inside the notes” and present the music with great insight and energy. My sole complaint was that her piano, a Steinway model D274, was miked extremely closely, resulting in a somewhat hard and glassy sound. Otherwise, these are first-rate performances. My lone complaint was that she made a bit too much of a taffy-pull of the third movement of the Sixth Sonata, turning this “Tempo di valse” into a sort of draggy-sounding ländler.

Yet her performances of the 4 Études is splendid, brisk and taut without overdoing the virtuosity, the second of which contains a rising chromatic harmony that makes one think it might have influenced Billy Strayhorn’s Take the “A” Train. She ends with the early and rather rare Suggestion Diabolique, a piece that drives forward like a freight train, mostly in the minor but with some typically Prokofiev-like diminished chords and extended harmonies.

A very good recital, then, and if nothing else an introduction to a fine artist whose name I will be seeking out in future releases.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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