Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Mariinsky
ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 3; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Denis Matsuev (piano); Mariinsky Orchestra/Velery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: MAR0549 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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On paper, this release featuring high-profile Russian artists in two of Prokofiev’s most popular works should be a sure-fire winner. In practice, the performances are more variable than one might expect. The Third Piano Concerto certainly packs a mighty punch through Denis Matsuev’s brilliantly athletic playing in the motoric sections of the first and third movements. Yet the work’s lyrical elements seem less involving. One problem is the harsh recorded tone of the piano, which robs the more introvert sections in each movement of some atmosphere. The Mariinsky Orchestra, too, is frustratingly uneven, sometimes delivering breathtaking and strongly characterised accompaniments, but in the opening of the second movement sounding a little perfunctory.

Similar criticisms can be applied to the Fifth Symphony recorded in the more texturally congested acoustics of the Moscow Conservatoire. The most incisive and exciting playing occurs in the development section of the first movement and the Scherzo , but elsewhere the performance seems less disciplined, especially in the closing bars of the Finale where the percussion seems worryingly out of kilter with the rest of the orchestra. In spite of the dry ambience of London’s Barbican Hall, Gergiev’s earlier live recording with the LSO on Philips is far more consistent, the opening of the Adagio free from the exaggerated use of rubato in the present recording which robs the music of some of its natural lyrical flow. Yet neither performance matches the refinement and sophistication of the much older Karajan Berlin Philharmonic release on DG which still remains my first choice in this work.

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Erik Levi