Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op, 16 (1912/23) [36:02]
Svetlana Ponomarėva (piano)
Omsk Academy Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Rylov
rec. live, 1 May 2014, Omsk Filharmonia Concert Hall, Russia
MV PRODUCTIONS No number [36:02]

Svetlana Ponomarėva was born in Omsk and studied at the Gnesins Russian Academy of Music in Moscow. Since 1999 she has lived in Canada. I see that my colleague, Jonathan Woolf has previously reviewed a disc on which she plays Schnittke and Bach. Jonathan also reviewed a recording of the Liszt sonata and some Schubert. We’ve also carried a review by Dominy Clements of an all-Schnittke disc.

The present performance was recorded live in concert and at the preceding rehearsal in her native city. Though the recording has its positive points there are one or two issues with it, I’m afraid. One is the orchestral contribution. Except in the loud passages the accompaniment is often dimly heard. Unfortunately, when the orchestra can be heard their sound, as I hear it, is rather pinched and not very pleasant. This is not an orchestra of the first rank.

The piano is well to the foreground. A Hamburg Steinway D instrument has been used. There’s an impressively full bass tone but, at least as recorded, the treble end of the instrument sounds very shallow.

Svetlana Ponomarėva is clearly a good pianist. She takes an expansive view of the first of the concerto’s four movements and in so doing stresses the Romantic Russian lineage that Prokofiev often respects in this piece – when he’s not being contemporary. Ponomarėva is impressively strong, especially in the big cadenza towards the end of the movement. However, given that the tempo indication is Andantino-Allegretto, I came to wonder after a while if the approach was not a little too deliberate. For comparison I listened to John Browning’s recording with Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony, a version originally made for RCA and now on Testament (SBT2-1376). There’s a rather better flow in the Browning version; I feel his pacing is more in tune with both the tempo indication and the character of the music. It’s noticeable that Browning takes 10:50 for this movement whereas Ponomarėva’s reading plays for 12:44. On the RCA/Testament recording, admittedly made under studio conditions, you can hear significantly more orchestral detail.

The orchestra is more in evidence in the short, brittle scherzo. Here Ponomarėva’s playing is dexterous. She has the measure of the third movement, an Intermezzo and builds it to a powerful climax in which the orchestra plays its part.

At the start of the finale this pianist is suitably athletic, though neither she nor, still less, her orchestra displays the flashing brilliance of Browning and the Boston Symphony. In the passages of quick music one is conscious once more of the shallow treble tone of the piano. In the passages where Prokofiev slows the speed and becomes more romantic in mood Ponomarėva is expansive, as she was in the first movement. In these stretches there’s rather more purpose in the Browning/Leinsdorf version but Ponomarėva’s interpretative take is valid.

Miss Ponomarėva is a good pianist but in the end this release is handicapped by two factors. One is the indifferent orchestral contribution – below what one would expect on a commercial CD – and the way in which the orchestra has been recorded. The second is the extremely ungenerous playing time. It’s a pity that Svetlana Ponomarėva could not have recorded, under studio conditions, some solo piano music – perhaps one or two Prokofiev piano sonatas – to fill out the disc. As it is I’m afraid the disc, which is available through the pianist’s website, is uncompetitive.

John Quinn