Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Pianist – Yefim Bronfman

Prokofiev in 1915

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.

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2 Pianist: Van Cliburn

Van Cliburn

Van Cliburn

I mentioned in an earlier entry that Vladimir Horowitz was one of my first heroes of the piano.  Van Cliburn was the other.

Cliburn was born in 1934 in Schreveport, Louisiana.  He began taking piano lessons at age three from his mother, who was his only teacher until he entered Juilliard in 1951, where he studied with the renowned Rosina Lhévinne.  After winning the prestigious Leventritt Award and making his Carnegie Hall debut in 1954, Cliburn famously captured the gold medal at the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958.  He returned home to a hero’s welcome and a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

I had the good fortune to hear Cliburn in person on three occasions.  The first was in 1964, at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.  He played an exceptionally demanding program, including Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata, Chopin’s Sonata No. 3, and the Sonata Op. 26 by Samuel Barber.

The second time was in 1965 in Denver, where his program included Prokofiev’s epic Sixth Sonata.  I managed to speak with him after both recitals, and he could not have been more gracious.  Both the Barber and Prokofiev sonatas have since become great favorites of mine;  I hope to feature them in future installments of this blog.

When I first discovered classical music, I listened to Cliburn’s recordings of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 over and over.  Between his recitals and his recordings, he exerted a strong influence on my nascent musical preferences.

It is that same concerto by Rachmaninoff that we hear in this video, which dates from 1972.  Kiril Kondrashin conducts the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.