10 Preludes, Op.23
Piano Sonata No.8 in B flat, Op.84
Boris Giltburg (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 14 November, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.8 (completed in 1944) is the last of the trilogy of his so-called “War Sonatas”. Of the three it is musically and emotionally the most complex of them. Giltburg rightly took a while before he started the work, to ensure his composure, and unfurled the opening Andante dolce at a very leisurely pace, too leisurely, for tension was lacking. Beauty predominated, but there was no Beast, for the contrasting Allegro moderato section (thus the first movement is built on such alternations) lacked for combativeness, for all the verve, energy and declamation expounded on it. The second, somewhat oblique, movement (marked Andante sognando) found Giltburg at-one with this tender and laidback music. He launched incisively into the finale, his astounding and tenacious playing to the fore, the coda propelled to a pealing and thunderous victory, yet not without suggesting we had slipped into showpiece territory; lacking was a suggestion of circumstance.
The ‘showpiece’ epithet is better reserved for Ravel’s La valse, which in its piano version cannot hold a candle to its orchestral brother. Giltburg rarely suggested darkness and catastrophe, but the piece, culminating in showy glissandos, is anyway more about virtuosity, supplied in abundance and fabulously by Giltburg. He offered three encores. Sibelius’s Valse triste is also best-known in terms of the orchestra; for piano it becomes something of a silent-movie soundtrack at its climax; but Giltburg gave it with an appropriate veiled sonority and the utmost sympathy. Then Rachmaninov’s Etude-tableau in A minor (Opus 39/6) was a thrilling ride, followed by Giltburg’s transcription of George Gershwin’s ‘That certain feeling’, brought off with infectious wit and innate style.