Accompanied by the RAI National Symphony Orchestra (Italian: Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI), the Soviet-born Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman performs Sergei Prokofiev‘s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16. Conductor: Vassily Sinaisky, flute: Giampaolo Pretto. This performance was recorded in Torino (Turin) in 1997.

Accompanied by the RAI National Symphony Orchestra (Italian: Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI), the Soviet-born Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman performs Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 16. Conductor: Vassily Sinaisky, flute: Giampaolo Pretto. This performance was recorded in Torino (Turin) in 1997.

Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2

Sergei Prokofiev set to work in 1912 and completed his Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1913. But this work got lost; the score was destroyed in a fire following the Russian Revolution in 1917. After the Revolution, Prokofiev left Russia and resided in the United States, then Germany, and then Paris, making his living as a composer, pianist, and conductor.

He reconstructed the work in 1923, two years after finishing his Third Concerto, and declared it to be “so completely rewritten that it might almost be considered (Concerto) No. 4”; indeed its orchestration has features that clearly postdate the 1921 concerto.

Performing as a solo pianist, Prokofiev premiered this surviving Piano Concerto No. 2 in Paris on 8 May 1924 with the Russian-born conductor, composer, and double-bassist Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951) conducting. It is dedicated to the memory of Maximilian Schmidthof, a friend of Prokofiev’s at the St. Petersburg Conservatory who had killed himself in 1913.

Schmidthof was a pianist, Prokofiev’s colleague at the conservatory, and his best friend at the time. They shared a passionate friendship and exchanged letters. On April 27, 1913, Prokofiev received the following note from Max, “Seriojha, some news: I’ve shot myself!”. He shot himself in a forest in Finland.

On May 9, Prokofiev wrote in his diary:

“Eyes open and both temples soaked in blood… Max had been sure of himself; he had not batted an eyelid and his hand was steady. The bullet went straight through the right temple and out through the left. A good shot. Bravo.”

“Returning home I inscribed on the score of the Second Piano Concerto: ‘To the memory of Maximilian Anatolievich Schmidthof.’ Tomorrow I shall put on a black tie and wear it in mourning for my friend.”
(From the program notes by David Nice, for the recording by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, 2004).

Scoring and Movements

The work is scored for piano solo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, tambourine and strings. There are four movements:

1. Andantino-Allegretto

The first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, titled “Andantino – Allegretto,” is a dynamic and emotionally intense composition that demonstrates both Prokofiev’s innovative style and the technical prowess needed from the pianist.

The movement opens with a slow, lyrical theme introduced by the piano, set against a subdued orchestral backdrop. This melancholic and expressive theme establishes the emotional tone of the piece. As the music progresses, the tempo increases, transitioning into the Allegretto section. This part of the movement is characterized by a more lively and rhythmically complex passage, presenting a stark contrast to the contemplative introduction.

The soloist must navigate rapid, intricate passages with exceptional precision and dexterity, underscoring the virtuosic demands of the concerto. Prokofiev’s use of bold harmonies and dynamic contrasts further enhances the movement’s intensity. The interplay between the piano and orchestra is intricate, with the piano often taking the lead in driving the musical narrative forward.

The movement culminates in a dramatic cadenza, where the soloist is given a moment to shine with a display of technical brilliance and emotional depth. This cadenza, one of the most challenging in the piano concerto repertoire, leads to a powerful conclusion, leaving a lasting impression on the listener. Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2’s first movement is a compelling blend of lyrical beauty, rhythmic complexity, and virtuosic display, making it a standout work in the concerto genre.

2. Scherzo: Vivace

The second movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, titled “Scherzo: Vivace,” is a whirlwind of energy and virtuosity, showcasing Prokofiev’s penchant for rhythmic complexity and innovative orchestration.

This movement is marked by its relentless, driving rhythm and rapid tempo. The piano and orchestra engage in a lively, almost playful dialogue, with the soloist executing fast, repetitive passages that demand exceptional precision and endurance. The movement is structured around a series of short, sharp motifs that are passed back and forth between the piano and various sections of the orchestra, creating a sense of constant motion and excitement.

Prokofiev’s characteristic use of dissonance and unconventional harmonies is evident throughout the Scherzo, adding to the movement’s edgy and modern feel. The interplay between the piano and the orchestra is particularly intricate, with the soloist often leading the charge with dazzling runs and arpeggios that cascade up and down the keyboard.

Despite its technical demands, the Scherzo: Vivace is also marked by a certain lightness and humor, reflecting Prokofiev’s ability to blend complexity with wit. The movement’s unflagging pace and spirited character make it a thrilling ride for both the performer and the listener, serving as a brilliant showcase of Prokofiev’s innovative compositional style and the pianist’s virtuosity.

3. Intermezzo: Allegro moderato

The third movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, titled “Intermezzo: Allegro moderato,” presents a stark contrast to the vivacious energy of the second movement. This movement is characterized by its darker, more brooding atmosphere, and showcases Prokofiev’s talent for creating dramatic and richly textured music.

The movement opens with a powerful, march-like theme introduced by the orchestra, setting a somber and almost menacing tone. The piano soon enters with bold, percussive chords that add to the movement’s intensity. Throughout the Intermezzo, the piano and orchestra engage in a dynamic interplay, with the piano often playing dense, chordal passages and the orchestra responding with equally forceful statements.

Prokofiev employs a wide range of dynamics and textures in this movement, from thunderous, full-bodied orchestral sections to more subdued, introspective moments where the piano takes the lead with lyrical, flowing lines. The harmonic language is rich and complex, with Prokofiev using dissonance to heighten the sense of tension and drama.

Rhythmically, the Intermezzo is marked by its relentless drive and shifting meters, keeping both the performers and the audience on edge. The movement’s structure is somewhat episodic, with contrasting sections that flow seamlessly from one to the next, maintaining a sense of forward momentum throughout.

4. Finale: Allegro tempestoso

The fourth movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2, titled “Finale: Allegro tempestoso,” serves as a thrilling and fiery conclusion to the concerto. This movement is a tour de force of energy and virtuosity, encapsulating Prokofiev’s characteristic blend of rhythmic drive and melodic inventiveness.

Opening with an explosive orchestral introduction, the movement immediately grabs the listener’s attention with its tempestuous character. The piano then enters with rapid, cascading runs that set the stage for a movement filled with technical brilliance and intensity. The main theme is dynamic and forceful, characterized by its syncopated rhythms and striking harmonies.

Throughout the Finale, the piano and orchestra engage in a vigorous and almost combative dialogue. The soloist is required to navigate through fast, intricate passages with precision and power, showcasing both technical prowess and interpretative depth. Prokofiev’s use of wide leaps, rapid scales, and complex rhythms makes this movement one of the most challenging in the piano concerto repertoire.

The movement features contrasting sections that alternate between intense, driving passages and more lyrical, reflective moments. This interplay creates a sense of dramatic tension and release, keeping the listener engaged from start to finish. The harmonic language is bold and adventurous, with Prokofiev employing unexpected key changes and dissonances to heighten the sense of unpredictability.

As the movement progresses, the intensity continues to build, culminating in a powerful and exhilarating coda. The Finale concludes with a burst of energy, leaving a lasting impression of Prokofiev’s compositional brilliance and the soloist’s virtuosity.

Sources

M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened andantemoderato.com to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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