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Piano Concerto No 5 in G major, Op 55
In 1911 Prokofiev had been considering ideas for three separate piano concertos. Twenty years later he found himself preoccupied with ideas for two more. The Fifth (and last) of Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos was written, like the first three, for himself to play, and he gave the first performance, in Berlin, on 31 October 1932 with Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

A clue to the unique structure of the Fifth Concerto may be in Prokofiev’s remark that at first, ‘having accumulated a good number of vigorous themes’, he contemplated calling it ‘Music for Piano and Orchestra’. Eventually it became Concerto No 5, but the unusual structure remains. It is ostensibly in five movements but is better perceived as being in three parts, and it is a fascinating task to compare the influence which the experimentations of the Fourth Concerto had upon the Fifth, particularly in the wide leaps of the keyboard writing in fast movements, the development of material from earlier movements, and in the approach to tonality.

The Fifth Concerto is said to be in G major – which it is, up to a point. In fact, however, because of this key’s extraordinary relationship in this work to its ostensible subdominant, C major, it should more properly be thought of as being ‘a concerto in the key of the dominant of C’. This rather long-winded description may go some way to explain Prokofiev’s originality and experimentation in the fundamentals of this work – which are also inherent in the material itself.

The first movement possesses an incredibly rich melodic vein, full of distinctive ideas which could only be by this composer. The piano writing throughout is brilliantly varied and thoroughly idiomatic, with a subsidiary theme that could have been written around the time of his ‘Classical’ Symphony – the whole movement, diamond-sharp in orchestration, adheres to a simple ternary form. The second movement, beginning as a slow toyshop march in C major (in which key it ‘virtually’ ends) takes a leaf from the third movement of the Fourth Concerto in juxtaposition of tempi within a broad ternary structure. The third movement, Toccata, continues the Fourth Concerto’s influence in using material from the opening movement for further development and bringing its pervasive G major to a stronger ending.

The Larghetto is the only slow movement in the work. In B flat (and emphatically written for the soloist’s two hands – occasionally almost three!), this key has a fascinating semitonal relationship with A minor and B major before the soloist brings us back to B flat major, echoing the tonal basis of the First Concerto of twenty years before.

However, the Fifth Concerto’s finale begins in B flat minor, and the semitonal relationships of A minor and B minor effect a brilliant return at last – after many thematic virtuosic adventures – to G major. B minor is both the leading key of C (the dominant of which is G) and also the major mediant of G. A final tumult of related keys, with the music fit to burst with excitement, brings this dazzling concerto to a breathless end.

from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1998

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67029 track 12
Recording date
3 January 1998
Recording venue
Walthamstow Assembly Halls, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Erik Smith
Recording engineer
Ken Blair
Hyperion usage
  1. Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 1, 4 & 5 (CDA67029)
    Disc 1 Track 12
    Release date: September 1998
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