Piano Concerto No.3 in C Major
Piano Concerto No.1 in D flat,
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16 (1912-13) revised 1923
Piano Concerto No.4 in B flat Major, Op.53, for the left hand (1931)
Piano Concerto No.5 in G major, Op.55 (1932)
8 Sergei Prokofiev: Soviet Diary, p. 29.
“Before going out to play my concerto, I begin to get stage-fright. I work at it a bit and manage to calm down. Just the same I cannot take too light a view of the situation: I am in Moscow, where they've been looking forward so intensely to seeing me, and – worst of all – where they know my concerto so intimately I dare not play it badly.” (8)
After the heavy lush romanticism of the Second Concerto, it seems inevitable for the pendulum to swing back towards classical lightness and elegance. Seemingly delighted to return to his favourite key of C major, a lighter texture and a happier subject, his joyful pianism springs forth from every page.
It is not surprising that the Third Concerto still remains the most popular and most accessible of all five concertos. Mainly a product of his Russian years, it gestated over a long period, beginning as far back as 1913. It is the only one of his concertos written with three perfectly balanced movements. The theme and variations, flanked on both sides by two brilliant outer movements, qualifies as the central musical focus of the work. Whenever I begin playing the opening trill of the first variation, I always think of that marvellous clarinet passage opening George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Prokofiev loved jazz and met Gershwin while living in Paris, but the question remains, who influenced whom with that passage?
No less virtuosic in its pianism than its predecessors, the Third Concerto offers much more transparent textures, and the listener has an easier time hearing what amazing feats the pianist can accomplish. It lies somewhere in between the ensemble approach of the First and the more combative soloist/orchestral opposition of the Second. Although there is no doubt that the Third qualifies as a virtuosic vehicle for the pianist, Prokofiev fully utilises the orchestra and treats it more or less as equal with the soloist. The solo clarinet is featured in the poignant opening statement; Prokofiev exploits the virtuosity of the strings in the first movement and the woodwinds in the finale’s middle section, allowing the cello to carry the big romantic declaration of the finale. Even though less physically demanding than in the Second, the pianism still sounds impressive. It’s as if Prokofiev sets out to distil and purify his technique within this classical structure. However, that doesn’t mean that it is easy for the pianist; there are some tricky places especially in the finale’s coda. These were the passages that Oleg Prokofiev recalled his father would always practice over and over again before leaving the house to play the concerto.
For me as a performer, it remains the “perfect” concerto – so well crafted musically and pianistically. It gives the soloist everything: bravura, lyricism (that wonderful melody in the finale and the andante melody in the opening), a wide colour and emotional palette and most importantly – joy in playing the piano! Next Back