Accompanied by the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, the Russian concert pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov performs Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat major, Op. 10. Conductor: Alan Gilbert. Recorded live on February 5, 2021, at the Elbphilharmonie, Großer Saal, Hamburg, Germany.
Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1
Written in 1991-1912, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was first performed in Moscow on 25 July/7 August 1912, with the composer himself as the soloist and Konstantin Saradzhev (8 October 1877 – 22 July 1954, the Armenian conductor and violinist) conducting. Prokofiev dedicated his first piano concerto to Nikolai Tcherepnin (May 15 [O.S. May 3] 1873 – 26 June 1945) the Russian composer, pianist, and conductor.
On 18 May 1914, performing his first Piano Concerto, Prokofiev won the Anton Rubinstein Competition as a piano player at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory on 18 May 1914. The Anton Rubinstein Competition was first staged in Russia between 1890 and 1910, and prizes were awarded for piano playing and composition. Since 2003 it has been run in Germany as a piano competition only.
The original Anton Rubinstein Competition was staged by Anton Rubinstein himself every five years from 1890 to 1910. Anton Rubinstein (November 28 [O.S. November 16] 1829 – November 20 [O.S. November 8] 1894) was a Russian pianist, composer, and conductor who became a pivotal figure in Russian culture when he founded the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He was the elder brother of Nikolai Rubinstein (14 June [O.S. 2 June] 1835 – 23 March [O.S. 11 March] 1881) who founded the Moscow Conservatory.
Prokofiev thought he might not win the competition by playing a classical concerto and proposed his own concerto for the competition program. He thought that by playing his own concerto, the jury would be “unable to judge whether he was playing it well or not.”
The competition rules, however, required that the piece be published; Prokofiev found a publisher willing to produce twenty copies in time for the competition. The performance went well and the jury, headed by Alexander Glazunov (1865 – 21 March 1936, the Russian composer, music teacher, and conductor) awarded Prokofiev the prize.
Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 can be divided into three sections:
1. Allegro Brioso
Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat major, Op. 10, opens with a first movement that is both striking and innovative, setting the tone for his unique approach to composition. Composed when Prokofiev was just 21 years old, this movement reflects a youthful energy and a bold desire to break from tradition. The movement is characterized by its vibrant and assertive opening theme, which is introduced by the piano and then taken up by the orchestra, creating a dynamic interplay between soloist and ensemble.
This first movement is relatively short but packed with a variety of musical ideas and textures. Prokofiev’s signature use of dissonance, rhythmic complexity, and melodic inventiveness are all on full display. The piano part is particularly demanding, requiring virtuosic skill to navigate its rapid passages and complex harmonies. Despite its technical challenges, the movement maintains a lyrical quality, with melodies that are both expressive and memorable.
One of the most distinctive features of this movement is its structure. Rather than following a traditional sonata form commonly used in concertos of the time, Prokofiev opts for a more condensed and integrated form. This approach allows for a seamless flow of musical ideas, moving swiftly from one theme to the next without the formal divisions found in more traditional concertos.
The first movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 ends as boldly as it begins, with a flourish that leaves a lasting impression of the composer’s daring and originality. It’s a piece that not only showcases Prokofiev’s skill as a pianist and composer but also heralds the arrival of a new and distinctive voice in early 20th-century music. The movement, and the concerto as a whole, remains a favorite among pianists and audiences alike for its energy, inventiveness, and the unique place it holds in the piano concerto repertoire.
2. Andante Assai
The second movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat major, Op. 10, offers a striking contrast to the vigorous and assertive first movement. This movement is known for its lyrical and somewhat introspective nature, showcasing a different facet of Prokofiev’s compositional prowess.
In this movement, Prokofiev demonstrates his ability to craft beautiful, singing melodies, a quality sometimes overshadowed by his more aggressive and percussive tendencies. The piano introduces a gentle, flowing theme that is both reflective and richly expressive. This theme is then elaborated upon and developed throughout the movement, with the orchestra providing a lush and sensitive accompaniment.
What’s notable about this movement is its structure and the way Prokofiev handles the development of the thematic material. Unlike the compact and integrated first movement, the second movement allows for more expansion and exploration of the themes. There’s a sense of narrative unfolding as if the music is telling a story, with each phrase adding to the emotional depth and complexity of the piece.
The interplay between the piano and the orchestra is particularly noteworthy. Prokofiev masterfully balances the solo instrument against the larger ensemble, creating moments of intimate dialogue as well as grand, sweeping gestures. The orchestration is colorful yet never overpowering, allowing the piano’s voice to shine through.
This movement also exhibits Prokofiev’s skill in creating atmospheric and evocative soundscapes. The use of harmony, texture, and dynamics all contribute to a mood that is at once dreamy and poignant. The movement concludes in a manner that retains the reflective mood, gently winding down and leaving the listener in a state of contemplative calm.
3. Allegro Scherzando
The third movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-flat major, Op. 10, is a brilliant and spirited finale that brings the concerto to a dramatic and exhilarating close. This movement is often celebrated for its vibrant energy, technical brilliance, and imaginative use of musical themes and textures.
Characterized by its lively tempo and rhythmic vitality, the third movement immediately grabs the listener’s attention. Prokofiev, known for his innovative approach to rhythm and melody, employs both in a way that is both playful and intricate. The piano part is particularly challenging, featuring rapid passages, crisp articulation, and demanding virtuosity. The soloist must navigate these technical hurdles while maintaining the movement’s overall sense of momentum and excitement.
The orchestration in this movement is equally dynamic. Prokofiev expertly weaves the orchestral voices with the piano, creating a rich tapestry of sound. The interplay between the soloist and the orchestra is one of the hallmarks of this movement, with each complementing and enhancing the other. The orchestral writing is colorful and engaging, providing a robust backdrop to the piano’s acrobatics.
One of the most compelling aspects of this movement is its structural ingenuity. Prokofiev constructs the movement with a keen sense of balance and contrast. Themes are introduced, developed, and then cleverly intertwined, showcasing the composer’s skill in thematic manipulation and development. This approach keeps the listener engaged and adds to the overall sense of forward momentum.
The finale builds towards a climactic conclusion, where Prokofiev brings back some of the thematic material from earlier in the movement, but with increased intensity and complexity. The movement culminates in a thrilling conclusion, marked by a final, emphatic statement from the orchestra and a dazzling display of pianistic prowess.
- Piano Concerto No. 1 (Prokofiev) on Wikipedia
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