Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 1-5

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Prokofiev,review
ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 1-5
WORKS: Works by Prokofiev
PERFORMER: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10802

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Following Jean-Effflam Bavouzet and Gianandrea Noseda’s superlative Bartók Concerto cycle, here are their attention-grabbing interpretations of Prokofiev’s characterful five of that genre. With Bavouzet’s lively temperament allied with Noseda’s fierce attention to detail, no listener will come to these performances without hearing something new in these works.

The Second Concerto is most successful, Bavouzet and Noseda unleashing – nay, reinforcing – its diabolical fury from its ferocious first movement cadenza until the finale’s lullaby-like central theme, with a particularly thunderous third movement along the way.

Their account of the Third Concerto is almost as effective, with the finale’s nostalgic central theme made the work’s true culmination. A pity, though, that this is achieved partly by muting the vivid character of the previous movement’s variations; these usually steal the show, but here they are played with brisk efficiency in emulation of Prokofiev’s own recording (in which the 78 format’s four-minute time limit per side was surely a factor).

The other Concertos are more uneven. The First is mostly scintillating, though Bavouzet and Noseda’s attempt to give its central Andante assai, as the booklet says, ‘surprisingly tragic dimensions’ goes against the music’s insouciant charm with its ironic clarinet trills and the composer’s instruction ‘very sweetly’ (Vladimir Krainev’s suave reading on Warner is more in character). Bavouzet’s light-fingered approach to the Fourth makes its already mercurial first movement mischievous and playful, though the recording over-favours him, placing several solo turns from the orchestra firmly into the background (Chandos’s earlier recording with Boris Berman is more successful here). Bavouzet’s Fifth Concerto is spiky and impish rather than merely pugilistic: only, disappointingly, his playing of the beautiful slow movement is a touch too deliberate
to capture its poetry.

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Daniel Jaffé