Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gary Graffman and George Szell play Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concertos No. 1 & 3

   Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev, born April 23rd, 1891, was one of the greatest composers in first half of the 20th century and the leading figure of neoclassical style. For his symphonic and ballet music he was internationally recognized but earlier big steps toward success were his concertos. First violin concerto and three piano concertos he composed before he turned 30. After the First World War and revolution of 1917, he decided to build his career abroad, living in USA, Germany and in France. His name in Russian original: Сергей Сергеевич Прокофьев, was into transcribed into different languages in accordance to phonetics so people know him in various spellings as: Serge Prokofieff, Sergei Sergejewitsch Prokofjew or Sergei Prokofiev. His fame is so widespread that, regardless of spelling, everyone knows who we are talking about.
   His emigration has more artistic venture than political choice. In fact his migration was authorized by Soviet government. In 1920’s he was traveling in Americas and Europe as conductor and pianist but first of all he was active as composer and was trying to promote his works. In fact these journeys were not quite a good period for his creative activities. In time of economic crisis possibilities of artistic development were increasingly limited, and as one of exiles he was not feeling happy. He decided that he should return to his homeland and in 1936 he moved to Moscow for good. And how conducive for his creativity was this decision shows the list of his works in late thirties.

Gary Graffman and George Szell play Sergei Prokofiev (1976)

   In Sergei Prokofiev’s creative output concertos are highly appreciated. These works as well as symphonies and solo sonatas decided of his neoclassical style, although he was also criticized as too much formalistic thus undemocratic and not socialist. He finished 9 concertos and concerting pieces, two concertos for violin and orchestra, five piano concertos, concert for cello and Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra. The Concertino for cello and orchestra has two versions because it was finished independently by Dmitry Kabalevski and by Vladimir Blok. The Piano concerto No. 6 Prokofiev started in 1953 remains unfinished. Significant part of his work are nine sonatas for piano (next two remained unfinished). These work and many piano miniatures are great part of modern piano literature.
   The two pieces representing early period of Prokofiev creative work – Concerto No. 1 in D-flat Major Op. 10 and Concerto No. 3 in C Major Op. 26 – belong to the group of most famous piano concertos of 20th century. Gary Graffman made recordings of these concertos in March 1966 with George Szell conducting Cleveland Orchestra. These recordings were published together with Piano Sonata No. 3 in A Minor Op. 28 recorded in December 1962. The repertoire of this album Graffman has already recorded – Concerto No. 3 in 1965 with San Francisco Symphony under Enrique Jorda and Sonata No. 3 in 1956 for RCA. Also Szell has great experience with Prokofiev’s music – he recorded 1st Piano Concerto in 1963 with Rudolf Serkin. The album released by CBS in 1976 is a powerful exposure of most popular Prokofiev’s concertos. These perfectly adequate performances can be a reference for understanding Prokofiev’s works. Five years later this album was reedited in CBS Great Performances series. As it is compilation of previously published recordings, it deserves four stars for great interpretation and clear sound.

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