The sonata, No.7,is the second of the so-called "War Sonatas." Richter was the first performer of the work, thus making its premiere a huge success. This is one of the most successful of Prokofiev's works, distinguished by its tight structure and careful, complex development of material. The first movement is the most complex of the three in this sonata.
Pianist Ayako Uehara's hands frequently explore the opposite ends of the keyboard quite dramatically, despite the occasional quibbles. For the most part, she conveys the dry musical texture which remains transparent and even austere. Uehara conveys the rich and diverse thematic material intelligently, and clearly defines the short melodic and rhythmic statements composing the first group of themes. She also plays the opening with the essential angular design and energetic presence needed. The second movement presents an entirely different emotional picture. Here, Uehara conveys its deeply felt expressivity which projects the grandeur and drama of a national tragedy. It is conceived as a monumental symphonic movement, and Uehara conjures the many allusions to orchestral sonorities. Harlow Robinson remarks that this movement,"like the third movement of the Sixth Sonata...is in a waltz time." Pianist Boris Berman says in his recent book on the sonatas, that "personally, I find no similarity between the lush waltz of the Sixth, and the movement in question." Uehara allows the broad first theme to unfold unhurriedly, like the flow of a mighty river, setting the tone of an epic narrative. In a reserved and noble way, Uehara soars, encompassing an even greater range, before calming down to allow a new theme to ominously start in the low register. In one of the phrases, Uehara shifts her attention to embellishing the theme before starting a torturous, stubborn ascent, leading us to a display of growing virtuosity, heightened with full orchestral sonority, then breaking into a passionate lament. The finale is a toccata, harking back to the famous Toccata Op.11, and other works in a similar vein, such as 'Suggestion diabolique, Op.4'.
Like the other earlier pieces, the movement is filled with perpetual motion and a constantly repeated short motive. It is sometimes described as jazzy, and its ostinato motive has been said to reflect the influence of American blues. Whatever the comparisons, they miss the point entirely. The unyielding force with which Uehara performs with, is miles away from the casual ease of the blues. Uehara respects the three conditions crucial for unleashing the full power of this movement. Do not play it too fast; the 'Precipitato' should be created by a relentlessly steady rhythm, rather than sheer speed. Play the three-note ostinato figure in the bass the same way whenever it appears, and play the right hand with a keen sense of voice leading in all three voices of the chords, rather than paying attention only to the upper line. Uehara observes the dynamic indications, and doesn't play too loud too soon, however, the dynamic scope could be expanded even more. She is prudent, and saves the imposing crescendo and crushing 'fortissimo' sound for those few spots that are indicated. Uehara beautifully shapes the E minor section, and plays with the tone that should sound more melodic than everything that preceded it, but certainly not lyrical. In the ten pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Uehara's playing is imaginative and filled with beautiful voice leading. Her technical facility in the 'Visions fugitives', is quite effortless, and conveys her growing confidence at the keyboard. There is a need for greater in depth attention pertaining to pedalling, dynamics and overall stability. The Prokofiev Sonata's have unique and meticulous challenges that require complete observation. They are indeed an ongoing, life learning exploration, and as Uehara performs more of his music, she will become even more imaginative in creating full characterizations of individual themes and passages. Prokofiev had a particular talent for creating a fully identifiable mood within the first notes of a piece, passage, or theme. Establishing this ability is a challenge for every pianist, and Uehara is well on the way to becoming an exceptionally impressive "Prokofiev Pianist!"
Author: Raymond Vacchino M.Mus. A.Mus. L.R.S.M. Licentiate (hon.)