Composers: Prokofiev
Compositions: Piano Sonatas Nos 4, 7 & 9
Performers: Alexander Melnikov p
Catalogue Number: Harmonia Mundi HMM902203

Two volumes in, Alexander Melnikov’s commanding survey of Prokofiev’s piano sonatas is already proving itself essential. Reviewing the first instalment for Limelight, Warwick Arnold observed that “the essence of [Prokofiev’s] genius is distilled in his piano writing”. That quality is to the fore in the Richter-dedicated Ninth Sonata of 1951, where Melnikov negotiates its lowering inscrutability with a deft, turn-on-a-sixpence deliberateness as precise and provocative as it is pungent and poetic. Employing an economy of approach bordering on the austere, he moves through its movements with the agile athleticism of a down-hill slalom racer to arrive at its evaporating finale with a balletic flourish.

The fulcrum of the three ‘War Sonatas’, the Seventh Sonata’s slow release of pent-up frustration is expressed by Melnikov with a fearsomely articulated virtuosity veering between biting acidity, baleful poetry and boiling insolence. His sense of stillness in the opening Allegro inquieto, his calculated reserve in the complex middle movement, his combustibility in the excitable finale, marks him out as a pianist with something altogether fresh and vital to say about Prokofiev.

The lesser known Fourth Sonata dates from 1917. Confrontationally purposeful, Melnikov takes the fractured turbulence of its opening at face value, the ensuing Andante pregnant with yet to be articulated emotions ultimately given full voice in the barnstorming concluding Allegro.