Reviews make up the bulk of today’s music press and rare are the listeners who buy a CD blind, without relying on the opinion of critics. But how much do we know about the opinion of the performers themselves and even more, of the composers?
In a Centenary survey for Gramophone (April 1991), Christopher Palmer looked at CDs of Prokofiev’s recordings of his own music, starting with the series he had made in the 1920s for the Duo-Art piano rolls. These, Palmer argued, were unreliable, as the technical transfer they had undergone had produced weird effects. “These recordings have been reissued in a number of compilation collections over the years (my own copy is from the Everest Archive of Piano Music), differing not only in content but also in the duration of individual items. If they faithfully reproduce the composer’s performances I am at a loss to understand their many eccentricities, chiefly of rhythm. He sounds like a different pianist altogether.”
Palmer was more complimentary about the next recording Prokofiev was to make with Gramophone in 1935, this time on LP. “An HMV recital recorded in Paris in early 1935 is more satisfying from every point of view. Not only is the selection more representative – it includes the Andante from the Fourth Piano Sonata, several Visions Fugitives and Tales of an Old Grandmother, two pieces from Op. 59 (“Landscape” and “Pastoral Sonatina”) – but the playing is warm and relaxed and the recording quality, excellent for the period.”
Well, this was not Prokofiev’s opinion as outlined in the following letters from the Archive, both written on 5 March 1935. Not only does Prokofiev express his views as to the quality of the recording in both letters, but he also lists in the first the exact content of each record he had made, a historical document in itself.