Hyperion Records

Piano Concerto No 1 in D flat major, Op 10
The First Concerto, in D flat major, was written in l911/2. Despite the ‘influences’ we have noted, which place the composition in its historical perspective, it is a brilliantly individual work which proclaimed a new voice in Russian music. The Concerto’s single-movement structure is easy to follow, and Prokofiev’s individual use of tonality (familiar from later compositions) is already in evidence. Prokofiev’s music is essentially additive – first one idea, then another, his skill best shown in his ability to fuse these elements coherently. In this, Prokofiev was a great master whose music throughout his career was founded upon a secure tonal basis, however individually he applied it. In the First Piano Concerto this is shown by a tonal side-step of a semitone, allied to keys a third apart – the latter a Romantic legacy. Such a harmonic pattern also informs the Fourth and Fifth Concertos.

In the First Concerto, the vigorous opening fortissimo theme in piano octaves and full orchestra – occurring three times in the work – is always anchored to D flat. A brilliant toccata for the soloist, with light orchestral accompaniment follows, the tonality having slipped to C major. This is succeeded by a lugubrious third theme in E minor from the lower orchestra alone (at first) which gradually gathers pace as it falls to A minor. Another slip, to A flat, and we are momentarily in the dominant of D flat, which returns with a sturdy reprise of the opening theme. The central slow section of the work, Andante assai, now unfolds in an appealing mixture of B major and its related G sharp (A flat) minor, through a beautiful theme on muted first violins and solo clarinet. This is variedly repeated twice until, after a climax, the music subsides onto A flat. The finale of the Concerto opens by continuing the development of material from the first part, but – and here Prokofiev’s harmonic genius is at its most subtle – the keys are now heard in reverse order, so that the semitonal falls now rise, encapsulating the growing excitement of the music as it reaches for, and achieves, the home tonality of D flat in a blaze of extended power from soloist and full orchestra.

The first public performance was at Sokolniki Park, Moscow, on 7 August 1912, with Konstantin Sarajev conducting and Prokofiev as soloist. The Concerto’s dedicatee, Nicholas Tcherepnin, had conducted a student performance the previous May.

from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1998

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