Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 2 & 3
PERFORMER: Evgeny Kissin (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 264 5362

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When over 15 years ago Evgeny Kissin recorded his first Prokofiev concertos, he shied away from the insane challenges of the Second. Here, live in the Royal Festival Hall last January, he surmounts these very much on his own terms, rarely baring the fangs of this tyrannosaurus rex among concertos but revealing the strong melodic impetus usually smothered under its welter of notes.

That’s apparent from the sensitive handling of the opening theme, with spacious rubato underlining Prokofiev’s characteristic modulations; even in the titanic cadenza, substance triumphs over virtuosity.

The Scherzo is scintillating rather than scary, the Intermezzo less bludgeoning than usual, and Kissin strikes the right note of introspective simplicity at the still heart of the otherwise coruscating finale. Ashkenazy, too, never lets the Philharmonia lay the violence on too thick.

The subtler moments have the greatest impact in the Third, perhaps because the Philharmonia’s slightly hazy position behind the soloist – kept helpfully at bay in the thicker textures of the Second – here makes it less of an equal partner with the soloist.

Still, Ashkenazy proves responsive to Kissin’s magic in the floating first-movement development section and the atmospheric fourth variation of the second movement (its successor, as in Kissin’s partnership with Abbado, goes at an unusual and convincing lick).

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Kissin’s sprightly approach, as before, comes close to the mercurial William Kapell (reissued on Naxos); in No. 2, you may find that Ashkenazy as pianist together with Previn hits the terrifying heights more surely. David Nice