Prokofiev Piano Concertos Nos. 1-5

Storming Prokofiev reissues that brim with thrilling virtuosity and musicianship

Author: 
Bryce Morrison

Prokofiev Piano Concertos Nos. 1-5

Here, in brilliantly refreshed sound, is a reissue of Prokofiev’s five piano concertos, first released in 1990 and now appearing on the Classics label. The performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the superb direction of Neeme Järvi are shared between Horacio Gutiérrez (Concertos Nos 2 and 3) and Boris Berman (Concertos Nos 1, 4 and 5). And while honours are not quite evenly divided, both pianists show themselves gloriously in sympathy with Prokofiev’s idiom. This ranges from his early bad-boy image (No 1), monstrous virtuoso demands (No 2), wintry fairy-tale magic (No 3) and left-hand-only agility (No 4) to wild, unabashed acrobatics (No 5). Indeed, Cuban-American Gutiérrez unleashes some of the most thrilling virtuosity on record, storming the Second Concerto’s first movement development/cadenza in a manner that will make lesser pianists tremble. He is no less stunning in the less obviously demanding Third Concerto where once again his ebullience is complemented by flawless technique and musicianship.

Berman (Boris, not Lazar) may offer less supercharged vitality but all three of his performances alternate poise and exuberance to a most stylish and musical degree. Again, his way with the Fourth Concerto is so finely tuned that it makes what is arguably the weakest of the concertos a scintillating success. He is fully alive to the First Concerto’s rampant mischief-making (never more so than in the central Andante’s satirical romance) and is more than equal to the Fifth Concerto’s grotesquerie. Järvi works hand in glove with his soloists and the result is a triumph. No recorded collection of the complete concertos, whether deleted or available, comes within distance of this.

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