Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 4; Piano Concerto No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 4; Piano Concerto No. 5
PERFORMER: Nikolai Demidenko (piano)LPO/Alexander Lazarev
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67029
Demidenko pursues the more elusive fantasies of Prokofiev’s concerto series in his second instalment (the first coupled the monster No. 2 and firm favourite No. 3). His introspective subtlety, well offset by Lazarev’s refreshing emotional directness, makes the best case for the slow movements of the Fourth – with its limited concertante solo role composed for one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who never played it – and the Fifth. In both, a deceptive innocence falls away to reveal a starkly scored second melody which belongs in each case to Prokofiev’s last years in the West, but points a very clear way forward to his bold Soviet-period themes. Demidenko’s rhythmic definition helps to keep watch over the wayward course of outer movements, and Lazarev’s LPO is helpful in emphasising what the composer called ‘the outlines of a real face’ emergent at key points in the Fifth Concerto’s parallel-bars exercises.

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Often, though, one wishes Demidenko would show us the leer of Caliban behind Ariel-like finesse. His toccatas are supremely elegant, but set them alongside Toradze in his often extreme partnership with Gergiev for all five concertos, and you can’t help missing a certain audacity (for direct comparison, try the beginning or end of the Fourth). And surely the mockery of the grand concerto style which ought to hit the roof at the end of the First Concerto needs to be loonier; here the Puckish high jinks which follow the introduction don’t jolt the listener as they should, and the big finale, bucking unexpectedly, sounds almost apologetic. David Nice