Movement 1: Andantino – Allegretto
Movement 2: Scherzo: Vivace
Movement 3: Intermezzo: Allegro moderato
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro tempestoso
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 as 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