Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 4 (Left Hand); Overture on Hebrew Themes

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 4 (Left Hand); Overture on Hebrew Themes
PERFORMER: Yefim Bronfman (piano), Giora Feidman (clarinet); Israel PO/Zubin Mehta; Juilliard String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SK 58966 DDD
‘A Babel of insane sounds’, Prokofiev’s powerful, brittle, fantastic Second Concerto gets more of an airing these days than it used to. Rightly so. It’s a marvellous, technically stunning, brilliantly powerful tour de force. To get its message across, however, what it needs is an infinitely colouristic, dynamically wide-ranging pianist, responsive to its distinctive mix of aggression, bizarreries and poetry – a rare species. The composer himself found it ‘incredibly difficult and mercilessly tiring’.

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Similarly in four movements, the Fourth Concerto in B flat for left hand (1931) was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, who unfortunately didn’t like it – which says more about him than the nature of the music. Unperformed until 1956, three years after Prokofiev’s death, it’s a more accessible piece than the Second: in particular the romantically sweeping melody and balletically weighted climax of its slow movement look to the popular love world of Romeo and Juliet.

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Michel Béroff (EMI bargain) and Kun Woo Paik (Naxos super-bargain) offer strong competition to Bronfman, and in some respects are more highly charged – especially in the Second Concerto. But Bronfman’s general efficiency and pianistic bravura, and his evident eloquence in the Fourth, still make for an impressive overview. Mehta and the Israel PO, more routine than electric, offer dutiful accompaniment. The Overture on Hebrew Themes (1919), based on Jewish playing traditions, is given an evocatively idiomatic performance and appeals instantly. Ates Orga