Prokofiev sym2 FUG798

Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op. 16 (1913)
Symphony No 2 in D minor, Op. 40 (1925)
Andrei Korobeinikov (piano)
Ural Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Liss
rec 2021, Sverdlovsk Philharmonic Hall, Yekaterinburg, Russia
Fuga Libera FUG798 [71]

Two years ago, I heard this orchestra under their chief conductor Dmitry Liss during the Myaskovsky Festival in Yekaterinburg, and was enormously impressed by the depth of colours in the strings and the brilliance of the woodwind and brass groups. The orchestra was awarded the 2020 National Critics Prize, and this recording was made to commemorate Prokofiev’s 130th birth anniversary. The orchestra have made recordings of Myaskovsky’s Sixth and Tenth symphonies for Warner, and for Fuga Libera of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, and have toured the United States, Europe and the Far East.

The Moscow-born pianist Andrei Korobeinikov is a multiple winner of international piano competitions, including the Scriabin International Piano Competition and the Rachmaninov International Piano Competition, and was the winner of the best performance of Tchaikovsky at the Tchaikovsky International Competition in 2007. He studied with Professor Diev at the Moscow Conservatoire, and at the Royal College of Music with Vanessa Latarge. His recordings range from Beethoven and Grieg to Elgar and Scriabin for Olympia, Mirare and Naxos.

Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto caused a scandal at its premiere in 1913; the press called it ‘the debut of the Cubist and Futurist of the piano’. It presents immense challenges to the soloist; even Prokofiev described it as ‘hideously difficult and mercilessly tedious.’ The work embraces great emotional power mixed with lyricism and a sweeping breadth of freedom shared with barbaric Scythian influences. Perhaps the latter is unsurprising because the concerto dates from the same period as the Scythian Suite. The score was lost during the Russian Revolution, so Prokofiev had to rewrite it in 1923. He made changes to the piano part, and he himself premiered this revised version in 1924.

In the opening Andantino-Allegretto, Korobeinikov shows his virtuosic brilliance in proclaiming the eloquently beautiful theme, heard against dulcet toned strings. In a dream-like passage, oboist Vadim Kudinov announces a delightful folk theme. Later, the music switches from lyricism to modernism, the latter episode including shrieks from the woodwind. Korobeinikov offers an incandescent account of the cadenza at the heart of the movement.

The Scherzo: Vivace rushes by in a fleeting sparkling sequence in which the woodwind and the piano are to the fore. The third movement, Intermezzo: Allegro moderato, transforms the mood with a lifeless stomping theme on the low strings interrupted by the woodwind and a distinctly voiced passage on the piano. In the Finale: Allegro tempestoso, the piano enters with polished chords heralding a madcap race to the finish accompanied by terrific orchestral playing. Towards the end we hear a charming piano solo passage. Throughout the performance Korobeinikov benefits from the support of Liss and his virtuoso orchestra.

By the time Prokofiev wrote his Second Symphony, romanticism was out of fashion, prompting him to adopt the constructivist style. ‘Have I really, at my age and at the height of my powers, fallen flat on my face after nine months of frenzied toil?’ Prokofiev wrote the symphony following the death of his mother, who had followed her son into exile. The composer noted that he was searching for a language capable of expressing strong emotions as if forged ‘from iron and steel’.

The opening Allegro ben articolato includes thrilling shrieks from the woodwind and an eloquent idea proclaimed by the principal oboe. Dmitry Liss brings out associations with Prokofiev’s ballet Le Pas d’acier and there are also pre-echoes of Alexander Nevsky – notably the ‘Battle on the Ice’. The orchestral playing exhibits superb dynamics in every department, all captured splendidly by the sound engineers. The sound is as if one is sitting in the first row of the hall with everything clearly heard. There are exceptionally loud passages in which anyone listening on headphones will need to lower the volume.

The second movement, Tema con variazioni, is an attempt to confront the imagery of ‘steel and iron’ with a form of release evident in the lyrical Russian theme, first heard on the oboe. This heralds a series of variations which represent a panorama of Slavic imagery – at times of fairylike magic, of pagan ritual, or of wistful lyricism presaging Prokofiev’s mature period. Notable is a solo trumpet passage, played gloriously by Mikhail Shestopero; this foreshadows a stirring brass chorale, followed by a beautifully reassuring sequence played by the strings, before an uplifting flute melody.

The conductor handles the shift in the quickly changing variations masterfully, evincing all the fairy-tale magic of the score. The final variation returns us to the beautiful oboe theme. Dmitry Liss has enjoyed a twenty-five-year tenure with the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra and this new release confirms the orchestra’s status as among the very best in Russia.

The CD is in a multi-fold enveloping card with a 20-page booklet with texts in English, French and Russian by Yelena Krivonogova and a colour photo of the orchestra and conductor. The recording was made upon public demand after a concert in June 2021 and is a joint project between the Sverdlovsk Philharmonic, the Ural Philharmonic and Reachsoundart. Forthcoming releases include Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, and a disc of choral music by the Yekaterinburg Philharmonic Choir. Entitled ‘Great Music of Small Forms’ this will feature Russian sacred and secular music and is to be released by Fuga Libera later this year.

Gregor Tassie

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