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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 1 [15:42]
Overture on Hebrew Themes [9:02]
Piano Concerto No. 3 [27:38]
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Peternko
rec. Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, 15-19 February 2016
ONYX 4140 [52:23]

I didn’t much care for Trpčeski and Petrenko’s recording of the Tchaikovsky concertos (review), but I really liked this one. They seem to have a much more natural feel for Prokofiev, and they tap into the music’s mischievous heart much more readily than they do to Tchaikovsky’s lyricism.

That’s evident right from the start of No. 1. The great opening surges with confidence, and has a fantastic onward sweep that I found enormously compelling.  This is a tutti in full sail, and it sets the tone for a performance of daredevil confidence. The piano then takes a slightly manic sideways leap in its first solo passage, with the orchestra compelled to follow, seemingly by sheer force of Trpčeski’s personality!   There is then a playful innocence to the second main theme that is really compelling.

The whole opening paragraph thus feels like a student work in the best sense of its youthful mood and outlook. Conversely, the strings that open the second section sound really beguiling, as if drawing you into their world, and the sense of drama in the Scherzo finale feels like it’s going at full momentum. I loved the moment where are the opening theme returns, bringing a beautiful sense of symmetry to a work that can seem piecemeal.

The more frequently performed third concerto is every bit as successful, because here the sense of mischief is even more pronounced, full of anarchic energy and the feeling that we never quite know what’s coming next. The line of the first movement darts around like an electric current looking for an output, and if the second movement is more controlled then it’s still full of vigour. It also has a kaleidoscopic assortment of sounds in it, going through a vast range of moods in each variation, including some rather cheeky brass. The finale, too, seems to cock a quirky snook at anyone who’ll listen, but the seriousness of the counter theme on the winds is a real contrast, and this dichotomy generates real musical energy that powers the whole movement, including a coda whose waves of energy seem to hang in mid-air for moments after it finishes.

The Overture on Hebrew Themes is a nice contrasting filler. Like the concertos, it wears its mischievousness on its sleeve, and it helps that it has a clarinettist who really knows what he (or she) is doing. There is a tiny touch of klezmer about the whole thing, and I thought the smaller scale of the performance was very well caught; with credit to the engineers for doing so.

In short, this is a hit; the most satisfying performances of these concertos I’ve heard in a long while. I wonder if they’re thinking about embarking on a series?

Simon Thompson


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