Prokofiev & Vedernikov Play Prokofiev

Prokofiev cover

PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 4: Andante. Visions fugitives, Op. 22, Nos. 3, 5-7, 9-11 & 18. Music for Children, Nos. 10-12. Étude, Op. 52 No. 3. Suggestion Diabolique / Serge Prokofiev, pno/spkr / 4 Pieces for Piano, Opp. 3 & 4. Gavotte. 10 Pieces for Piano, Op. 12 / Anatoly Vedernikov, pno / Parnassus PACD 96073

Lovers of Prokofiev’s music will probably give a start of shock when they hear that this extremely rare American broadcast of January 16, 1937, from the personal collection of Yves St. Laurent, has been found, restored and issued on CD, only to express some disappointment that all the pieces he plays here were recorded commercially for HMV in 1935. Apparently, these were the pieces he included in his solo recitals; the 78s were made to help promote his concerts, and this broadcast probably done to promote both. But at least it is Prokofiev himself playing and talking, and the sound quality is far better than you might expect from old metal acetate discs. Even so, and including all of the spoken introductions etc., the entire Prokofiev portion of this disc runs only 22 minutes.

Despite the decent sound, Parnassus has done little or nothing to remove the continuous crackle from these recordings, and that is a distraction. Otherwise, it’s interesting to hear him playing his own music, which he sometimes phrases differently from the published scores. This raises a serious question for all the historically-informed performance people out there. How can you be even approximately certain that you’re playing music the way it was played in an era when recordings didn’t exist when you can actually hear Prokofiev, Ives, Sorabji and others play their music differently from the scores? I recall reading once (I forget where) about a piano pupil who dared play a Prokofiev piece the way Prokofiev played it, only to be told that he shouldn’t do that because it’s not in the score. But that’s the way the composer himself played it, he replied. Well, said the teacher, it’s still wrong. But is it? If the composer himself played it differently, shouldn’t that give you license to do the same? You tell ME.

One of the real surprises of this disc is to hear Prokofiev’s spoken introduction to the Music for Children. Considering that he spent most of his time going between Russia and France, and that this wasn’t a time when foreign artists were as fluent in English as they are nowadays, his English is quite good, idiomatic and clearly understandable.

The bulk of this CD, however, features recordings by pianist Anatoly Vedernikov (1920-1993), a close friend of Sviatoslav Richter’s. Vedernikov acted as an assistant to Prokofiev in his late years by transcribing orchestral scores from the composer’s “musical shorthand.” This was, then, a purely secretarial function and not one in which Vedernikov actually took lessons from or worked at the piano with the composer, but there is that tenuous relationship.

Judging from these recordings, Vedernikov was clearly an excellent pianist but one whose aesthetic was different from both Prokofiev, who play in a brisk, almost detaché manner, and his friend Richter, whose playing was much heavier and more dramatic. I would liken his style more to a pianist like Solomon or the American John Browning, one dependent on a legato flow and much subtler accents than is often common with Russian keyboard players. Curiously, this style of pianism is closer to how Béla Bartók played his own music than to the way Prokofiev played his, but the performances are ingratiating.

An interesting disc, then, particularly valuable for those who, like me, do not own the 1935 HMV recordings of Prokofiev playing his own music.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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