CD Review: Prokofiev/ Complete Piano Sonatas. Sarcasms, Op 17

Anne-Marie McDermott
Gramophone Magazine

By Bryce Morrison

You will search high and low for a more meticulously prepared set of the Prokofiev piano sonatas than Anne-Marie McDermott’s, which also includes the early, outrageous Sarcasms for good measure. With technique to burn and a fierce commitment to every note, she offers highly individual performances which none the less remain scrupulously true to the composer.

In her accompanying notes McDermott speaks of Prokofiev’s “intense and dramatic musical voice”, for her a “visceral and stimulating challenge”. Such eloquence is reflected in all these performances where no stone is left unturned; where every “I” is perfectly dotted and every “t” no less perfectly crossed. And just when you feel, In the Seventh Sonata’s 7/8 precipitato finale that her tempo is perhaps more judicious than thrilling, she whirls you away with a vengeance in the Sixth Sonata’s opening, discarding Prokofiev’s allegro moderato in favour of something more racy. She is smartly on the move again in the following, sardonically dancing Allegretto, yet is at the same time glowingly alert to the fourth movement’s Romance, to its expressive weight and intensity. Here, in particular, you are made aware of her rich tonal resource, big-scaled but never confusing strength with violence. The popular single-movement Third Sonata is a far cry from, say, Weissenberg’s depth-charge but unmusical virtuosity; and in the second movement of the quirky Ninth Sonata (dedicated to Sviatoslav Richter) McDermott’s command is as breathtaking as her ethereal resolution of Prokofiev’s elfin capering at the close of the finale.

Just occasionally (in, for example, the “scherzoishness”- the composer’s own term- of the Second Sonata’s second movement) I wished she had indulged herself in a little more fantasy and freedom, let the music off the lead, so to speak. Personally, I would never want to be without certain classics of the recorded repertoire: Richter “live” in Nos 2 and 8 in his 1961 London recital (BBC Legends, 3/09), Horowitz’s sic of No 7, which so astonished the composer (Philips, 1/93) and Pogorelich in No 6, always among his fiest offerings (DG, 11/84), yet all in all you could hardly wish for playing of a greater integrity than from Anne-Marie McDermott. Hers is a formidable achievement, reminding us that we have waited a long time for an American pianist of this stature.