Gergiev has become a noted Prokofiev interpreter, his recording of the complete Romeo and Juliet music receiving the BBC Music Magazine Disc of the Year award a couple of years back. Here he is partnered in the 3rd Piano Concerto by Denis Matsuev, winner of the 11th Tchaikovsky Competition. So a starry line-up then – do the results live up?
Well yes and no. The two performances, concerto and symphony, are emphatically worth hearing, both being thrilling accounts of magnificent works. The drawback is the recording. The symphony isn’t too problematic, though it does sound frighteningly garish in the big tuttis but the concerto is all over the place, with piano too far forward, and brass seemingly out of the picture.
Nevertheless, these are fine readings of two masterpieces of Prokofiev’s maturity. Written in 1944, Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony is in many ways the Russian counterpart to Copland’s 3rd. The composer intended it as a “a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit”. Not surprisingly, it has an expansive and broad character clearly influenced by the circumstances of its composition. It is patriotic, heroic and big-boned, designed to inspire and motivate the people of the composer’s homeland. No doubt, he had taken note of the response to the 7th Symphony of his younger compatriot, Dmitri Shostakovich.
Yet Prokofiev does not give us something anodyne or straightforward; the second movement is full of those sarcastic and quirky moments that are so characteristic, and the finale has a conclusion that is, to say the least, equivocal. At that point, the strident triumphalism of the work’s opening seems a long way away. There is also a very beautiful adagio, in Prokofiev’s most lyrical vein, yet with a disturbing funeral march episode at its centre.
Prokofiev wrote five piano concertos but it is his third that has gained the most popularity. It remains one of his most popular pieces and the qualities of clarity and vitality that appealed to the work’s original audiences are apparent almost immediately the work begins. It is no surprise in Matsuev’s hands that this remains his most frequently performed piano concerto.
Denis Matsuev will be touring throughout the world in 2014. In February he appeared at the closing ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, alongside Valery Gergiev, followed by a series of concerts in Spain, presenting Rachmaninov's piano concertos and Prokofiev sonatas. In March and April Matsuev joined or joins the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev for a European tour, with concerts in London, Paris and Turin.
Masterwork Index: Prokofiev symphony 5