Park Lane Group Anniversary Series – Prokofiev (23 January)

Visions fugitives, Op.22
Sonata No.5, Op.38 (Revised as Op.135)
Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op.75 (transcribed composer from ballet, Op.64)

Nikolai Demidenko (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 23 January, 2003
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Prokofiev and Demidenko might seem a forbidding combination, the composer steely and percussive, the performer powerful and unyielding – surely ingredients for an austere combination of anguished exile and Soviet efficiency. But this was not the bombastic Prokofiev of the ’War Sonatas’, while the silken if bright Fazioli piano tamed Demidenko’s natural fierceness allowing him an exemplary blend of elegant gesture and effortless technique.

Visions fugitives rely on the ability to convey a kaleidoscope of moods and are a perfect instance of Prokofiev’s neo-Romantic leanings. Demidenko did indeed show his ability to entice and seduce, not only to bluster and hector, although the penultimate number was a fitting example of Revolutionary vigour.

The Fifth Sonata is unjustly neglected at the expense of its successors, certainly on the strength of this performance. It is modest and charming, looking back to Prokofiev’s interest in the Classical, forward to Poulenc’s Flute Sonata and Ravel’s ’Blues’ (Violin Sonata), all prefigured in the first two movements. Again, Demidenko matched his virtuosity and attack to the piece’s scale; his tone a beautiful cantabile in the ’tranquillo’ sections.

Such ease with both Classical and modern, miniature and extended form augured well for the ballet pieces that followed. The fleet steps of ’Juliet as a Young Girl’ or the posturing of ’Montagues and Capulets’ showed Demidenko at home with programmatic as well as abstract characterisation, while the transparency of the piano texture seemed as much a tribute to his technical confidence as Prokofiev’s clarity of style.

At moments, such as at the ’lento’ conclusion of Visions, ’The girls with lilies’ and the ’love duet’ between Romeo and Juliet, Demidenko betrayed a predictable impatience with sentiment and reflection. Overall, this was a richly satisfying portrait of Prokofiev’s more intimate side of Prokofiev than we are maybe used to.

It is much reported that Prokofiev and Stalin died on the same day. This was, however, a recital more romantic than totalitarian, more Shakespeare than Stalin, no bleak wintry evening, rather a true winter’s tale.

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