Lev Vinocour

Prokofiev: Complete Transcriptions for Piano

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Prokofiev was nothing if not a practical musician, and he was proficient at getting the maximum mileage out of his music whenever possible. The fact that he was an expert pianist made it possible for him to create wonderfully idiomatic, and often virtuosic, transcriptions of his orchestral works. The most likely candidates for transcriptions were the numbers from his ballets and operas, which were complete, discrete pieces that would fit very nicely together as piano suites. The work he mined most thoroughly was his ballet Cinderella, from which he extracted three suites for piano, with a total of 19 selections. His single suite from Romeo and Juliet contains 10 movements. His most famous transcription, the March and Scherzo from The Love for Three Oranges is one of his most popular keyboard works. The remaining works include a waltz from the opera War and Peace, and dances from his incidental music for Hamlet and his film score Lermontov. The CD also includes Prokofiev's transcriptions of music by other composers: a Buxtehude prelude and fugue, a suite of waltzes by Schubert, and an abbreviated version of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.

Russian pianist Lev Vinocour tackles the repertoire with formidable technique and interpretive breadth. In the knuckle-busters like the Mephisto-Waltz from Lermontov, which he takes at breakneck speed, the result is awe-inspiring. His tendency to emphasize the transcriptions' rhythmic punch is more successful in some movements than in others. Vinocour is less persuasive in the more lyrical movements. In some cases, such as the middle section of "Montagues and Capulets" from Romeo and Juliet, the piano simply can't re-create the velvety portamento of the orchestral version, and the problem here has more to do with reducing the richness of the orchestration to the keyboard than with the performance itself. Interestingly, the Scheherazade transcription is more successful in its lyrical sections than some of Prokofiev's arrangements of his own works. If one were to hear these performances without bringing the memory of the orchestral versions to the experience, all of the pieces would be entirely convincing on their own terms. The sound quality is generally good, but the miking is just a little distant, and there is a faint hum in the quietest moments.

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