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Sergei Prokofiev - Toccata for Piano Op.11

Sergei Prokofiev

Toccata for Piano Op.11

Vladimir Horowitz

RCA 60377

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Sergei Prokofiev

Toccata for Piano Op.11

Martha Argerich

Polygram (DG) 447430

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Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev
In retrospect, its a brilliant ploy. Liszt did it with his Rhapsodies, Paganini did it with his 24 Caprices, and even Brahms was not immune with his Intermezzi. A struggling, unknown composer who is also a struggling, unknown pianist can write a work for himself to perform, a work that can be tailored to show off the best of his brilliance as a composer and pianist.

For Prokofiev, this musical curriculum vitae was his Toccata, opus 11 written in 1912, when he was 23 years old. It was revolutionary, as was the mood of the times, and set Prokofiev's life's course. The Toccata's influence can be heard in many of Prokofiev's later, more mature works, especially the third and fifth piano concertos.

The Toccata was like no other music heard before. It is driving, motoric, percussive, dissonant, relenting only briefly to build up for the final explosion. Its manic and maniacal, the devil let loose on the keyboard.

Its also fiendishly difficult to play, and here is a work where faster is better. Fast is the whole point of the Toccata. Vladimir Horowitz does it in exactly four blistering minutes.

Horowitz was a champion of Prokofiev's music in the West. He was the first to perform his so-called War Sonatas (numbers 6, 7 and 8) in the United States. This CD includes the world premier recording on the Seventh from 1945, necessarily a mono recording. On hearing it, Prokofiev sent Horowitz a signed manuscript of the score, inscribed “to the miraculous pianist, from the composer”.

This is a “love it”, or “hate it” recording of the Seventh, despite Prokofiev's stamp of approval. The “hate it”s call it sluggish, the “love it”s call it thoughtful. This is music from a terrible time, full of pathos and bittersweet lyricism. Horowitz captures that mood perfectly.

Also included are almost unknown sonatas from Samuel Barber (a personal friend of Horowitz) and Kabalevsky, and short works by Gabriel Faure and Francis Poulenc. An unusual and intelligent selection, eye-opening in its breadth and mastery.

But its the 4 minute Toccata that makes this CD what it is - essential. But unfortunately (or fortunately) there is another recording equally essential, that by a 19 year old Martha Argerich. So much so that we at have decided to take a slightly different tack this week, focussing on a particular piece of music, namely the Toccata, rather than a particular CD.

Martha Argerich - Serious Competition

Prokofiev's Toccata is as much about the pianist as the music itself. And a more different pianist to Vladimir Horowitz you could not find than Martha Argerich. Both technically brilliant, Argerich is about showmanship where Horowitz is refinement, Horowitz full of self doubt and anxiety, Argerich brash, bold and a risk-taker.

Martha Argerich was just 19 when she made this Debut Recital in 1960. The range of tone is wide, from the masculine, explosive Toccata through the moody Brahms Rhapsody Op. 79, the beautiful song-like Chopin Barcarole to the seductive Ravel Jeux d'eau (she later made a masterful recording of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit). DG have added a 1971 recording of Liszt's Sonata in B minor, a very full CD in both time and emotional impact.

Argerich's version of the Prokofiev Toccata resets the standard for this work. Prepare to be stunned; you may find yourself holding your breath until the end. Argerich combines virtuosity with bravura to come up with music uniquely Argerich, but utterly convincing.

The greatest debut recital ever.

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Track Listing

Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
Sergey Prokofiev
Toccata and Piano Sonata no.7
and other lesser known 20th century piano music

    Prokofiev, Piano Sonata no.7 “War Sonata” Op.83
  1. I. Allegro Inquieto; Andantino
  2. II. Andante Caloroso
  3. III. Precipitato

    Samuel Barber, Piano Sonata Op.26
  4. I. Allegro Energico
  5. II. Allegro Vivace E Leggero
  6. III. Adagio Mesto
  7. IV. Fuga: Allero Con Spirito

    Dimitri Kabalevsky, Piano Sonata No. 3 in F major, Op. 46
  8. I. Allegro Con Moto
  9. II. Andante Cantabile
  10. III. Allegro Giocoso

  11. Prokofiev, Toccata, Op.11 In C
  12. Gabriel Faure, Nocturne for piano for 13 in B Minor, Op. 119
  13. Francis Poulenc, Presto for piano in B flat major, FP 70

Martha Argerich (piano)
Debut Recital
Works by Brahms, Chopin, Ravel, Prokofiev and Liszt

  1. Chopin, Scherzo No.3 in C#, op.39
  2. Brahms, Rhapsody, Op.79: No.1 in b: Agitato
  3. Brahms, Rhapsody, Op.79: No.2 in g: Molto Passionato, Ma Non Troppo
  4. Prokofiev, Toccata, Op.11
  5. Ravel, Jeux D'eau: Tres doux
  6. Chopin, Barcarole in F#, Op.60
  7. Liszt, Hungarian Rhap No.6

    Franz Liszt, Sonata, for piano in B minor, S. 178
  8. Lento Assai - Allegro Energico
  9. Grandioso
  10. Cantando Espressivo
  11. Pesante - Recitativo
  12. Andante Sostenuto
  13. Quasi Adagio
  14. Allegro Energico
  15. Piu Mosso
  16. Cantando Espressivo Senza Slentare
  17. Stretta Quasi Presto - Presto - Prestissimo
  18. Andante Sostenuto - Allegro Moderato - Lento Assai

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