Prokofiev: Piano Concerto no.3 in C, Op.26
By: Peter Larsen
April 18, 2016
This concerto comes from 1921, when Prokofiev was about 30. Prokofiev himself was the soloist at its first performance. It’s particularly notable for the diversity and brilliance of its pianistic demands, its wide range of musical ideas, embracing both consonance and dissonance, and for its variety of tone-colours. Since the work was composed before the imposition by the Communist state of rigorous demands concerning all branches of the arts, Prokofiev presumably felt free to compose as he saw fit.
The work opens with a haunting solo for clarinet, soon to be joined by a second clarinet, then by flute. A vigorous passage for orchestra and piano follows, the latter with forceful double octaves. At this point there is a phrase distinctly reminiscent of the Fair scene in Stravinsky’s Petrushka; this gradually evolves into a three-note figure, which, in elaborated form, takes on a playful quality, becoming an important supplementary theme. Pianistic virtuosity returns; the three-note figure is transformed into cascade-like passages for both orchestra and soloist, together with a recall of the opening haunting theme. The spirit of the work then changes; repeated chords lead to rapid descending scale passages for both piano and orchestra, combined with violin pizzicato, much of it in a relatively high register. The Petrushka-like figure, now associated with brilliant scale passages for piano, is followed briefly by a grotesquely distorted version of the three-note figure, now with muted horns. A brilliant scale passage for piano with flute culminates in an abrupt conclusion to the movement.
"Since the work was composed before the imposition by the Communist state of rigorous demands concerning all branches of the arts, Prokofiev presumably felt free to compose as he saw fit"
The second movement begins with a march-like figure for flute, with light orchestral accompaniment. Surprising key changes lead to brief interludes for clarinet, oboe and especially bassoon. The piano enters with a rising chromatic passage; briefly, the march-like theme is then recalled and extended. A remarkably vigorous semi-chromatic and dissonant passage for piano, accompanied by muted trumpet and high woodwind, is briefly interrupted by two consonant chords. The resumption of the semi-chromatic theme introduces a folk-song like idea for flute, still accompanied by vigorous piano writing. A sudden orchestral dissonance is followed by a quiet, single-note piano figure with tremolando strings. Abruptly, the mood changes; a rising sequential phrase culminates in a recall of the opening march-like theme of the movement, now accompanied by a reiterated four-note figure for piano. A chord for winds, which seemingly closes the movement, is followed unexpectedly by a curious coda which, beginning with a quiet piano phrase, is succeeded by a brief passage predominantly for cellos, and then by a single long-sustained chord for piano and strings.
The final movement commences with a brisk theme for bassoons, followed by virtuosic double-octave piano passages, in association with strings and equally brilliant woodwind. A plaintive passage for woodwinds and strings leads to a seemingly simple three-note motive for piano, which evolves into a slightly sinister figure, with surprising upward thrusts for oboe and clarinet. The subsequent warm and distinctly Romantic sequence for piano and strings is briefly interrupted by a mysterious descending passage for piano and mainly woodwind. This merges into an elaborated resumption of the Romantic idea. A brisk theme for bassoon follows; it is the subject of a short fugue-like sequence, taken up by piano and woodwind, though it’s soon discontinued. Sustained reiteration of a persistent phrase for piano and orchestra resolves into an abrupt end to the movement and the whole concerto.
Peter Larsen is a 3MBS Presenter Emeritus