In the summer of 1917, Chicago businessman Cyrus McCormick, Jr., the farm machine magnate, met ̀the 26-year-old composer Sergei Prokofiev while on a business trip to Russia. Prokofiev was unknown to McCormick, but the composer recognised the distinguished American’s name at once, because the estate his father had managed owned several impressive International Harvester machines. McCormick expressed an interest in the composer’s new music, and he eventually agreed to pay for the printing of his unpublished 'Scythian Suite'. He also encouraged Prokofiev to come to the United States, and asked him to send some of his scores to Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Frederick Stock. Prokofiev made his debut with the Chicago Symphony the following season, playing his First Piano Concerto and conducting the orchestra in his Scythian Suite in December 1918, both U.S. premieres and returned to Chicago four more times.
These are excellent performances of exceptionally interesting repertoire. Prokofiev himself arranged 19 numbers from his Cinderella ballet for solo piano, so he surely would not have objected in principle to their reworking for two pianos; nor in practice, I suspect, because Pletnev’s arrangements are fabulously idiomatic and the playing here has all the requisite sparkle and drive. Shostakovich’s Op 6 Suite is far too seldom heard. True, it is an apprentice piece and open to criticism – both the first two movements peter out rather unconvincingly and the blend of grandiosity à la Rachmaninov and academic dissection of material à la Taneyev is not always a happy or very original one. But as a learning experience the Suite was a vital springboard for the First Symphony a couple of years later and there is real depth of feeling in the slow movement, as well as intimations elsewhere of the obsessive drive of the mature Shostakovich. What a phenomenally talented 16-year-old he was!
The nearly uninterrupted string of strong, successful albums produced by cellist Gautier Capuçon (and indeed his violinist brother, Renaud) demonstrates that the CD debut Face à Face was not just a fluke produced by child prodigies. Rather, Face à Face was a springboard for what has proven to be an enduring career and ever-improving musicianship. On this latest album without his brother, Gautier collaborates with pianist Gabriela Montero on the cello sonatas of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. Fans of Capuçon's playing will recall that he had previously released a recording of the Rachmaninov sonata with pianist Lilya Zilberstein on the EMI label in 2003. While it may seem questionable to make duplicate recordings when he has recorded so little of the cello repertoire, it offers listeners an opportunity to see how his playing continues to mature even over a short span of five years. While some of the tempos are a little different than the 2003 recording, the most notable difference is that of sound, which has developed impressively with the help of his magnificent 1701 Gofriller cello. His command of sound is most obvious in the solo opening of the Prokofiev sonata.
Another memorable pair of transfers from Michael Dutton–and in the first, a fine memorial to the pianism of Prokofiev himself. The concerto was recorded at Abbey Road in London in 1932, the year before Prokofiev returned to live in the Soviet Union after nearly two decades away. His playing in this famous performance crackles and bubbles along, while the LSO is on great form under Piero Coppola, who apparently brought Prokofiev to London for the occasion.