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Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op 16
1912-13; first performed in Pavolvsk on 5 September 1913, the composer as soloist; revised version first performed by the composer in Paris on 8 May 1924, Serge Koussevitsky conducting

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Jorge Bolet – His earliest recordings
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'Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3' (CDA66858)
Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3
CDA66858  To be superseded by CDH55440  
Movement 1: Andantino – Allegretto
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Track 1 on CDA66858 [12'28] To be superseded by CDH55440
Movement 2: Scherzo: Vivace
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Track 2 on CDA66858 [2'39] To be superseded by CDH55440
Movement 3: Intermezzo: Allegro moderato
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Track 3 on CDA66858 [8'35] To be superseded by CDH55440
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro tempestoso
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Track 4 on CDA66858 [11'48] To be superseded by CDH55440

Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op 16
Although, as was to become his lifelong habit, the material for Prokofiev’s second concerto had been collected over a period of time, the work is vastly different in almost every regard from his first. The second, written two years after its predecessor, is more than twice as long and is not in one movement, but four. The solo part is no less brilliant, but is technically—and musically—more difficult.

Prokofiev had been composing since childhood, and he himself admitted that some of the ideas of the concerto—perhaps the very first subject, heard on the piano over rocking triplets—came from the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century. But no matter what the provenance of this material or whether the cata­lyst was hearing Rachmaninov’s third concerto, there is no doubt but that, while the fate of this second concerto of Prok­o­fiev mirrored in many ways the fate of Rachma­ninov’s third (both were sidelined for decades), the resul­tant work is one of Prokofiev’s greatest scores, a brilliant concerto which has come into its own only in recent years.

The first movement is an astonishing achievement. Beginning with a quiet idea, setting the G minor tonality on clarinets and strings, the solo piano announces one of the composer’s most memorable ideas, an arching theme over rocking triplets. This is, in fact, the first of two themes which make up the first subject; the second is a rising scalic idea, also heard first on the piano. This material is repeated, although not slavishly, in a develop­mental counter-exposition to usher in the second subject, a faster, more balletic idea marked ‘con eleganza’—again given to the soloist. What is so utterly new is that the key of this second subject is the supertonic, A minor—a scheme which can surely not have been attempted before by any composer in a sonata-like movement. The juxta­position of these adjacent tonalities sets up underlying tensions: the second subject is also treated to a counter-exposition and leads, where we may expect a development proper to begin, to the vast cadenza. In this secondary large development Prokofiev prepares for the recapitu­la­tion in masterly fashion: the tonal tension is further stretched by combining first and second subjects in virtu­oso keyboard counterpoint with coruscating additional passagework so that, when the very opening quiet idea is nobly intoned against this by the brass to announce the re-entry of the orchestra in G minor, it is done against a timpani pedal on A! This tremendous moment is made more remarkable as A is the dominant of D—itself the dominant of G minor, in which key the movement ends with a quiet reference to the opening idea.

Prokofiev’s use of tonality was individual. It may have sprung from Scriabin, in that Prokofiev used it in the manner of synaesthesia, finding relationships between colour and sound. In this Prokofiev was not alone, certainly in the first fifteen years of the twentieth century, but his was not a neurasthenic, sensual art: his music could be vigorous and resolute, as in the concluding movements of the second concerto.

Now follows a brilliantly virtuosic Scherzo, marked ‘Vivace’: a brief, yet hectic, 187-bar eruption in which the soloist plays throughout in octaves without a moment’s respite (music which clearly influenced, and not for the only time in Prokofiev’s output, the young William Walton). This Scherzo may be the first appearance of such a demand on a soloist—playing a movement from first note to last, without a single rest—in the history of con­certo writing, yet tonally, being in D minor, the movement reinforces the home key of the work in traditional terms. In other ways there is an almost Mahlerian intensity to this music, and even more so in the Intermezzo, which inhabits a similar world to the Nachtstücken in Mahler’s seventh symphony at the same time as seeming to be, in its solo writing, a descendant of Schumann’s ‘Prophet Bird’, and additionally, in its grotesqueries, looking to­wards the ferocity of Prokofiev’s own Scythian Suite of 1914/5.

The Finale is echt Prokofiev, a power-house of brilliant ideas, transfigured by a haunting tune (from his child­hood?), which are combined, after another glance at Rachmaninov’s third concerto, in virtuosic cascades to bring to a close a distinctive and magnificent concerto which could have been written by no other composer.

The concerto was first performed in Pavlovsk on 5 September 1913 with the composer as soloist. The recep­tion was mixed, as Prokofiev recalled: ‘Half the audience hissed and the other half applauded.’ These views were echoed in the press.

from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1996

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA66858 track 3
Intermezzo: Allegro moderato
Recording date
20 December 1995
Recording venue
Blackheath Concert Halls, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Erik Smith
Recording engineer
Ken Blair
Hyperion usage
  1. Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3 (CDA66858)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: October 1996
    Deletion date: September 2011
    To be superseded by CDH55440
  2. Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 (CDH55440)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: 2 March 2015
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — To be issued soon 2 March 2015 Release
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