Together with Rachmaninoff's four, the five Prokofieff piano concertos are the only two Russian cycles in the genre that have kept a foothold in the international concert hall.
Born in 1891, Prokofieff made his early career in the guise of a composer-pianist and up till his death in 1953; the instrument remained uppermost in the composer's affections. These pieces span a period of 20 years, 1912-1932, and are generally regarded as the product of an 'enfant terrible' who wanted to shock and surprise. All of these works impose huge demands on the soloist as the music is often stark, bizarre, extremely dissonant and grotesque, but they also include moments of respite and solace which are most welcome to both performers and audience.
The First and Third, are rightly so, the most popular of the five, but the other three are no less interesting, particularly the Fourth, which like Ravel's was composed for the left hand and was dedicated to Paul Wittgenstein. Unfortunately, the dedicatee never performed it, as he said; 'I cannot understand a note and I shall not play it'. The fourth remains to this day, the least popular concerto.
The Baku born Oleg Marshev has come in for high praise for his previous recordings of Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff concertos, both for Danacord and I find his Prokofieff very much in tine with the composer's wishes. Extrovert and virtuosic, he is always in control of this difficult music and his pianism is overflowing with that Russian passion which stirs both mind and spirit. Niklas Willen's conducting is very sympathetic towards the soloist but the orchestra is always allowed to shine when the occasion warrants it. Excellent sound and annotations complete this valuable set which should go a long way in giving us a chance to assess afresh these benchmark 20th century masterpieces.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech