Dinara Klinton plays Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas

4 of 5 stars

Piano Sonata No.1 in F-minor, Op.1
Piano Sonata No.2 in D-minor, Op.14
Piano Sonata No.3 in A-minor, Op.28
Piano Sonata No.4 in C minor, Op.29
Piano Sonata No.5 in C, Op.38/135
Piano Sonata No.6 in A, Op.82
Piano Sonata No.7 in B-flat, Op.83 (Stalingrad)
Piano Sonata No.8 in B-flat, Op.84
Piano Sonata No.9 in C, Op.103

Dinara Klinton (piano)

Recorded at Westvest Church, Schiedam, The Netherlands on 29, 30 January, 27, 28 June 2019 and 30, 31 January 2020

Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: August 2021
Duration: 170 minutes



Few bona fide keyboard titans play every Prokofiev Piano Sonata, and only a small cohort has recorded the complete cycle. Fewer still go the whole hog by including the torso of the Tenth and both the original and revised versions of the Fifth. One of the drawbacks of the present sequence is the way it rules out these options despite extending over three discs. The spacious layout allows for the works to be presented in chronological order but this has led to some confusion. The finely detailed booklet notes, alternating observations by Ateş Orga and the pianist herself, make it quite clear that we are getting Op.38/135 (1923/1952-3), the version of the Fifth with the upbeat demonstrative ending. Purchasers or downloaders may nonetheless be fooled by the back inlay which refers to Op.38 alone.

The set is presented in a clunky plastic box. The recording is very good if not quite state-of-the-art. Set against the nicely resonant concert-hall effect fabricated in a variety of venues for Boris Berman (Chandos), the sonority elicited by Pieter van Winkel’s team is that of a real piano parked in the wood-panelled nook of a real church. By contrast, Peter Donohoe (Somm), perhaps the ‘biggest’ player to have tackled these sonatas in recent years, risks sounding cramped. Both include considerably more music.

Thirty-ish, Ukraine-born and Moscow- and London-trained, Dinara Klinton has a remarkably secure technique of the kind associated with the Russian piano school, yet prefers her Prokofiev soft-grained. While the more lyrical and/or varied Sonatas suit her down to the ground, the implacable thrust of the composer’s motoric vein tends to be downplayed. There is no want of linear clarity – Klinton often exposes subsidiary routes more extrovert pianists leave unexplored – but the abrasive aspect of Prokofiev’s musical personality can seem a tad muzzled at times with speeds slower than the norm. The effect is most noticeable in the famous wartime trilogy whereas the Second and Ninth above all struck me as ideal in scale and focus. I was less sure about the Third, which arguably sags a little but the lapse into a more ‘mechanical’ motion must be deliberate: something similar happens in the development of the first movement of the Sixth. If memory serves she is even slower than Van Cliburn in its second segment, a distinctly unperky Allegretto  as she conceives it, with a seriously lyrical heart. Sviatoslav Richter imparts greater urgency there and in what remains of the piece.

Is Klinton wise to undersell the harshness of the Seventh? Mikhail Pletnev does likewise for DG in an account of the concluding Precipitato even less likely to put you in mind of tanks coming over the hill. I can only report that I missed Pollini’s super-efficiency, Argerich’s dash, and Sokolov’s incredible weight; perhaps that will always be the case. In the Eighth, Klinton is more reminiscent of Emil Gilels in 1974 – he premiered the work after all – than Daniil Trifonov in 2019. That most extreme of recent exponents kills off any sense of musical progression in his breathless sprint to the finishing line. Keyboard wizardry is never an end in itself for Klinton and she sees no need to bring out the steel in Prokofiev’s percussive writing. The Ninth brings the cycle to a very special close, the wan quality of so many performances replaced by something at once consoling, purposeful and humane. Tension matters less here than poetic shaping, and Donohoe’s breezier approach pays few dividends for all that he knows these scores from the inside having prepared a printed edition.

Klinton sums up her approach this way: “Prokofiev’s music is extremely visual. It is physically communicative. Sometimes, playing it, I feel like a ballet dancer sensing the music through motion and vibration. In later life Prokofiev took this still further. Not only can we visualise objects, we can also feel the material that they’re made of, the structure, the consistency of the fabric. His distinctively ‘orchestrated’ writing for the instrument creates a particular challenge for a performer, different weightings, voicings and colours demanding different soundscapes.”

These are engaging words even if unobtrusive beauty of sound and perfect control cannot tell us the whole story. Richter, a great admirer of Prokofiev’s music, considered Prokofiev the man positively dangerous and left us a small vignette of the musician at his worst: “One day a pupil was playing him his Third Concerto, accompanied by his teacher at a second piano, when the composer suddenly got up and grabbed the teacher by the neck, shouting: ‘Idiot! You don’t even know how to play, get out of the room!’ To a teacher! He was violent. Completely different from Shostakovich, who was for ever mumbling ‘Sorry’.”

Atmospheric as her playing almost always is, you may find yourself hankering after rougher edges, more oomph, and less waywardness than provided here.

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