Came home today with  the last movement of Prokofieff’s Piano Sonata No. 7 playing in my head, for some reason. Haven’t heard it in years. The first time I heard it was I think Martha Argerich playing it. I heard it once. I told my piano teacher “I want to play that!” She freaked out. I bought the music and practised on my own anyway. Of course, I couldn’t play it, but it is just such a cool piece, especially the final (3rd) movement, which only lasts a few minutes, a few muscle-exhausting, head-banging, emotionally-draining minutes.

It being several decades since I heard this piece (why the hell it should be in my head, then?), I couldn’t remember its name, only that it was by Prokofieff. After floundering around unsuccessfuly on the internets thingies, I finally remembered Argerich had played it. Cue Youtube. It’s a lousy recording, taken by someone in the audience, and the sound is less than ideal and there’s the back of people’s heads all over the place. But. There’s a backstory. In 1990, Argerich was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Treatment was successful and it went into remission. Only to flare up again in 1995. This time it had metastasized to her lungs and lymph nodes, usually a death sentence. But the John Wayne Cancer Institute did surgery on her lung and gave her an experimental vaccine. It worked! In gratitude, Argerich did this benefit concert at the Carnegie Hall.

Argerich is a badass. She doesn’t move around much in this performance, but her 3rd movement is fast (though no faster than her previous recordings of this piece), and when she’s finished, no messing around, she just stands straight up! “That’s it, folks! Time to go home!” (If you want to jump to the 3rd movement – my favourite part – it starts at 13:23). (One of her daughters – she has 3 by 3 different fathers – made a movie about her mother which sounds fascinating: read a review of it here.)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSeriQx3RLM

YouTube kindly suggests similar videos you might be interested in, and high on the list was the same piece of music played by another dame, Russian (or to be precise Georgian; they might not like being lumped with the Russians, like the Scots hate being called English, quite understandable). Completely unpronounceable name, but great playing: much clearer than Argerich’s, imho, and perhaps the 3rd movement taken a little faster. I like the way she grabs the back of the seat after finishing the piece, as if the piano (or the piece) had thrown her off after a titanic struggle): here’s S. Prokofiev Piano Sonata no.7 Opus 83 (B) By Khatia Buniatishvili

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqgkmbRm1rY

Comments on Argerich’s music video mentioned Sokolov’s interpretation as being superior to Argerich’s. Here it is. Whether it’s better or not, I leave to my readers’ judgement. He looks a bit like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and plays it slower than Argerich (I prefer her speed, but perhaps that’s just because I’ve got used to it). However, every note is clear and there’re fewer fluffed notes than with Argerich, who seems to have taken a leaf out of Arthur Rubinstein’s book (he said, and I paraphrase, “As I get older, I don’t make fewer mistakes, but I play them with more confidence!”)

That merciless left-hand theme hammering away, man, that is so cool. Reminds me of “Mars” in Holst’s “The Planets Suite“. I notice that Sokolov gets up real quick and walks straight off after finishing.  “Man! I need a drink!!”

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zwji3k0v_AM

And to balance out the babes, here’s another gent’s interpretation of this sonata: Glenn Gould, dead at the age of 50. Brilliant clarity, though it is an old recording.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgW80gZ2424


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