Hyperion Records

Piano Concerto No 3 in C major, Op 26
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Between 1917 and 1921, Prokofiev wrote his Third Concerto, which he performed for the first time in Chicago under Frederick Stock on 16 December 1921. Sketches for this work date back as far as 1911 and in the intervening years the composer worked at it from time to time. He included a passage from an uncompleted ‘large virtuoso concerto’—evidently not the Second—and the theme for the set of variations which make up the second movement was written down in 1913. In 1916 he wrote two variations for the second movement and added themes for the first, at the same time including a passage from a projected string quartet (a diatonic work in two movements, the whole material playable using only the white keys of the piano). The material was eventually used in the finale of the Third Concerto. Thus when Prokofiev needed a suitable work to perform with orchestra and decided to write the Third Concerto, virtually the whole of the thematic material was already assembled.

In 1911 Prokofiev had found himself wrestling with ideas for three piano concertos at the same time; almost inevitably one finds thematic inter-relationships. This is clearly shown in the opening themes of the Second and Third Concertos (virtually the same in contour). The theme of the Third Concerto is the same idea from which all later material is derived, notably the theme which opens the variations and the ‘white-keys’ theme of the finale. One can also trace this in the more chromatic elements: the second subjects of both first and third movements, and the descending phrases in the variation theme of the second movement. It is, perhaps, this thematic integration that gives the work a tight coherence, but the harmonic daring and the subtle relationships of various keys to the tonic C major add a spicy, quirky element which is endearingly timeless.

The concerto was none too well received at its première in 1921 and in 1924 Prokofiev chose to offer Koussevitsky his revised Second Concerto. Neither was published as quickly as the First had been in pre-revolutionary Russia. However, Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto has for many years been the most popular of the five he eventually composed, and it is the only one to be in the customary three movements (No 4, for left hand, is in four, No 5 in five). It was also the first to be recorded (by the composer himself in 1932 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Piero Coppola). Today the Second Concerto bears the same relationship to the Third as does Rachmaninov’s Third to his Second—in each instance the larger composition may be regarded as the finer work of art, while the shorter will always be the more popular.

from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1996

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