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8.550565 - PROKOFIEV: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 5
Sergey Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)
Concerto No.2 in G Minor, Op. 16
Sergey Prokofiev was born in 1891 at Sontsovka in the Ukraine, the son of a prosperous estate manager. An only child, his musical talents were fostered by his mother, a cultured amateur pianist, and he tried his hand at composition at the age of five, later being tutored at home by the composer Glière. In 1904, on the advice of Glazunov, his parents allowed him to enter the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he continued his studies as a pianist and as a composer until 1914, owing more to the influence of senior fellow-students Asafyev and Myaskovsky than to the older generation of teachers, represented by Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Even as a student Prokofiev had begun to make his mark as a composer, arousing enthusiasm and hostility in equal measure, and inducing Glazunov, now director of the Conservatory, to walk out of a performance of The Scythian Suite, fearing for his sense of hearing. During the war he gained exemption from military service by enrolling as an organ student and after the Revolution was given permission to travel abroad, at first to America, taking with him the scores of The Scythian Suite, arranged from a ballet originally commissioned by Dyagilev, the Classical Symphony and his first Violin Concerto.
Unlike Stravinsky and Rachmaninov, Prokofiev had left Russia with official permission and with the idea of returning home sooner or later. His stay in the United States of America was at first successful. He appeared as a solo pianist and wrote the opera The Love for Three Oranges for the Chicago Opera. By 1920, however, he had begun to find life more difficult and moved to Paris, where he re-established contact with Dyagilev, for whom he revised The Tale of the Buffoon, a ballet successfully mounted in 1921. He spent much of the next sixteen years in France, returning from time to time to Russia, where his music was still acceptable.
In 1936 Prokofiev decided to settle once more in his native country, taking up residence in Moscow in time for the first official onslaught on music that did not sort weIl with the political and social aims of the government, aimed in particular at the hitherto successful opera A Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Shostakovich. Twelve years later the name of Prokofiev was to be openly joined with that of Shostakovich in an even more explicit condemnation of formalism, with particular reference now to Prokofiev's opera War and Peace. He died in 1953 on the same day as Joseph Stalin, and thus never benefited from the subsequent relaxation in official policy to the arts.
As a composer Prokofiev was prolific. His operas include the remarkable Fiery Angel, first performed in its entirety in Paris the year after his death, with ballet-scores in Russia for Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. The last of his seven symphonies was completed in 1952, the year of his unfinished sixth piano concerto. His piano sonatas form an important addition to the repertoire, in addition to his songs and chamber music, film-scores and much else, some works overtly serving the purposes of the state. In style his music is often astringent in harmony, but with a characteristically Russian turn of melody and, whatever Shostakovich may have thought of it, a certain idiosyncratic gift for orchestration that gives his instrumental music a particular piquancy.
Prokofiev completed his second piano concerto in 1913, dedicating it to his Conservatory friend Max Shmitgov, who had committed suicide in April, shooting himself in a forest in Finland, after writing a farewell letter to his friend Prokofiev. Learning the solo part was hard work and he spent part of summer in preparation, while accompanying his mother on a tour of Western Europe that took them to Paris, to London and then to a spa in the Auvergne, before a brief holiday near the Black Sea. On 23rd August he played the concerto for the first time in a concert at Pavlovsk, provoking a very divided response of outrage and horror from some and ecstatic approval from the more progressive.
The orchestral score of the Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Opus 16, was destroyed in a fire, during Prokofiev's absence from Russia after 1918, and was rewritten in 1923. In Paris in the summer of 1914 Dyagilev showed interest in what seemed the work of another of the fauves and suggested using the music for a ballet, eventually commissioning a work on a primitive pagan libretto, Ala and Lolly, which, when it was rejected, became the Scythian Suite, music that Glazunov found even more distressing. In compensation for rejection of Ala and Lolly, Dyagilev arranged a concert appearance for Prokofiev in Rome in 1915, when he played the concerto to the expected mixed response. Dyagilev now offered a more congenial commission for The Buffoon (Chout), a ballet eventually staged in Paris in 1921.
The concerto is in four movements and opens with a lyrical Andantino and textures, at least, that suggest the chromaticism and piano-writing of Rachmaninov. The second movement is a Scherzo, in the key of D minor, music that offers a technical challenge to the soloist in its busy octaves. The original key of G minor is restored in the third movement> Intermezzo, a march in ironic mood rather than the more lyrical movement suggested by the title. The virtuoso finale recalls in its first subject the first movement, leading to a second subject of obviously Russian character. There is an extended cadenza before the orchestra returns with the principal theme.
Of the two later piano concertos completed by Prokofiev, the first, the Piano Concerto No.4, in B fIat major, for the left hand, completed in 1931, was commissioned by the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who refused to play the work. The Piano Concerto No.5, Opus 55, was completed in the summer of 1932 at Ste. Maxime on the French Mediterranean coast. Prokofiev had originally intended to avoid the title concerto, calling the work simply Music for Piano and Orchestra, but was dissuaded by Myaskovsky, with whom he remained in touch, to avoid this. The concerto was given its first performance in Berlin. Prokofiev was, as usual, the soloist, and the orchestra the Berlin Philharmonic, under Wilhelm Furtwängler. The work was well received, although Prokofiev himself later had doubts about it. It came at a period when the progressive musical demands of Paris sorted ill with his own search for clarity and simplicity, and for an inspiration that he felt could only be found in Russia.
The Fifth Piano Concerto is in five movements. The first of these, marked Allegro con brio, has a characteristic wide-spread opening theme, later contrasted with material that has its own peculiar harmonic twist. The strongly rhythmical second movement leads to a third, a toccata, that allows the motor impetus that is often a feature of Prokofievs music to predominate. There is a slow movement before the soloist introduces the final Vivo with an angular theme to which the piano later provides a contrast, in a movement that by and large lacks compelling melodic interest.
National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
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