Piano Sonata No.6 in A, Op.82
Piano Sonata No.7 in B flat, Op.83
Piano Sonata No.8 in B flat, Op.84
Denis Kozhukhin (piano)
Recorded 14-16 July 2012 in Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark
CD No: ONYX 4111 Duration: 75 minutes Reviewed: March 2013
Denis Kozhukhin – Prokofiev Piano Sonatas 6, 7 & 8: The War Sonatas [Onyx]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Denis Kozhukhin gives a magnificent account of Prokofiev’s Sixth Piano Sonata (1940), technically and musically, playing with fervour and clarity, investing the music with intensity, feeling and exploration, and holding completely the listener’s attention. In the first movement, violence and numbed tranquillity vie with one another. Kozhukhin is unstinting in the former and sensitive in the latter, welding the two together. From Kozhukhin the second movement is restless, dancing on staccato points, before lyricism enters only to become contrapuntally gnarled, the return to the ballet steps made edgier. The slow movement peers deeply into human emotion, Kozhukhin spontaneously spinning Prokofiev’s heartfelt eloquence and his musing disquiet, and he follows this with a finale that, at speed, is full of incident, detail and significance; similarly the slower reminiscences of previous material.
Of these three sonatas, written to consecutive opus numbers with two of them sharing a key, the Seventh (1942) is by far the most popular. Kozhukhin energises the scalding opening movement with unstinting fingers, finding desolation in the contrasting slower passages. He makes the second movement sad but enjoys the composer’s whimsy, and the toccata finale is a tour de force but is not abused as a showpiece, Kozhukhin investing considerable musicianship into the dynamics and articulation of this short thriller of a movement. With the elusive Piano Sonata No.8 (1944) Kozhukhin draws one into the lengthy and enigmatic first movement, its alternately slow-fast design embracing shadows, sparseness and thunderous anger, and surviving comparison with Sviatoslav Richter’s landmark version. The slow movement is a simpler affair if somewhat laconic, played expressively, and the finale is a vibrant affair with a central Andantino offering typical diversity, all mastered and communicated by Kozhukhin to heady and poetic effect who parades through the coruscating coda as an Olympian of the keyboard.
For these dazzling, perceptive and compelling performances, the pianist has been explicitly and truthfully recorded without recourse to harshness. On the strength alone of these interpretations and realisations, it may well be that Denis Kozhukhin (born 1986 in Nizhny Novgorod) can be considered as the leader of the pack of Russian pianists currently under forty.