I first became familiar with Prokofiev’s second piano concerto in the late ’60s, in a marvelous recording by John Browning that pairs the 1st and 2nd concertos. In the liner notes to that album, American conductor Igor Buketoff introduces the 2nd Concerto this way: “In the latter part of 1912, Prokofiev began work on his Second Piano Concerto, Op. 16. In his typical fashion, Prokofiev begrudgingly accepted the criticisms of his First Piano Concerto and then proceeded to turn them to his own advantage. ‘The charges of superficial bravura and acrobatic tendencies in the First Concerto led me to strive for greater depth in the Second’ the composer later remarked.
“But with greater depth there also crept in a suggestion of nervousness and even morbidity (Prokofiev dedicated the Concerto to the memory of a very close friend, the pianist Max Schmidthof, who had committed suicide earlier that year). The enormously long, taxing and magnificent cadenza in the first movement is one of the highlights of the Concerto, as are the brilliance of the Scherzo, the harshness of the Intermezzo and the savagery of the Finale, with its superbly beautiful Russian second theme.”
In this performance, pianist Yefim Bronfman is joined by Vassily Sinaisky conducting the Rai National Symphony Orchestra in a 1997 performance at Turin, Italy. For those looking for a something specific in the concerto, the magnificent cadenza in the first movement begins at 4:58, the second movement at 10:30, the third movement at 13:00, and the fourth movement at 19:20.