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For his third EMI Classics release, Evgeny Kissin has turned to repertoire from his native Russia, Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3. The performances were recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall in January 2008 with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. This is his first recording of Prokofiev’s Concerto No 2.
Evgeny Kissin made his concerto debut in Russia at the age of ten and caused an international sensation three years later with the release of his recording of Chopin’s 2 Piano Concertos. Kissin proceeded to record the major concerto repertoire whilst still in his teenage years. In 2006 he recorded the Schumann A minor and Mozart C minor concertos for EMI Classics followed by the Beethoven Piano Concertos cycle with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra, released in 2008 to popular and critical acclaim. These Prokofiev Concertos follow and there are plans to release Mozart Concertos no.20 K466 in d minor and no. 27 K595 in B flat major with the Kremerata Baltica, directed by Kissin.
The collaboration between Evgeny Kissin and Vladimir Ashkenazy is an inspired choice. In addition to his renown as a conductor, Russian-born Vladimir Ashkenazy is one of the finest pianists of his generation and a champion of the Russian piano repertoire. He has performed all five of Prokofiev’s piano concertos on many occasions. In 2000, he was named Conductor Laureate of the Philharmonia Orchestra.
In 1912-13, when Sergei Prokofiev composed his second piano concerto, he was still a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, yet he already had a reputation in St. Petersburg and Moscow as a brilliant pianist and composer. He had begun playing the piano and composing before he was six and had composed an opera by the age of nine. Glière was one of his early composition teachers. At 13, Prokofiev enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, where he studied under Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov and Tcherepnin.
Another of his teachers, the composer Nicolas Miaskovsky, described Prokofiev’s second piano concerto as, “very fresh and interesting, and in a more intimate vein than the First, but also more difficult. … There are wonderful bits, quite novel and most intriguing.” But at its debut in 1913, performed by the composer at Pavlovsk, a resort town near St. Petersburg, the audience appeared startled and reacted strongly. Some walked out of the hall. The original score was subsequently lost. When the composer reconstructed the concerto ten years later and performed it at the Koussevitzky Concerts in Paris in 1924, he had toned it down somewhat.
Prokofiev completed his third piano concerto in France in 1921. He had begun work on it in Russia in 1911 but had taken time out for extensive concert tours of the United States before resuming composition in 1916-17. The thematic material includes ideas for a large virtuoso concerto jotted down as early as 1911 and a theme for variations composed in 1913, as well additional themes sketched independently. In 1921, Prokofiev reviewed the material, chose some themes for his concerto and saved others for subsequent compositions. He was the soloist in the world premiere of the concerto with the Chicago Symphony in December 1921 and reprised the work the following month in New York. A highly praised performance by the composer under Serge Koussevitzky in Paris in 1922 confirmed the concerto’s status in the 20th century repertoire. Today No. 3 is the most popular of Prokofiev’s five piano concertos.
"Kissin reaches new peaks …The second concerto, with its jagged rhythms and spiky brilliance, can easily become a showcase for empty virtuosity but Kissin found in it beauty, poetry and hidden depths. …The fluency of his passagework was as breathtaking as ever. … The Philharmonia under Vladimir Ashkenazy was on top form, matching Kissin in tenacity, agility and dynamism.” London Evening Standard
“When…Evgeny Kissin recorded his first Prokofiev concertos, he shied away from the insane challenges of the Second. Here… he surmounts these very much on his own terms… revealing the strong melodic impetus usually smothered under its welter of notes. The subtler moments have the greatest impact in the Third... Ashkenazy proves responsive to Kissin's magic in the floating first-movement development section and the atmospheric fourth variation of the second movement...”
“…a stunning demonstration of pianistic prowess. Kissin is so ideally wired up from brain to fingers that he always seems to have extra nanoseconds in which to articulate and add colour and rhetorical accent. …this is clearly one of the outstanding concerto discs of the year - perhaps one might be tempted to say "of the decade".”
The Independent on Sunday
7th June 2009
“Orchestra and soloist are most cohesive in the rhapsodic sections of the "Thema con variazione" of the C major Concerto.”
4th May 2009
“It is a work that Evgeny Kissin has long had in his repertoire, and on this fine recording he deploys his indomitable technique, muscle and dexterity to give a dazzling interpretation. Opportunities for lyricism are grasped as well, as they are in the more popular, more lucid but scarcely less demanding Third Concerto. The sparks of humour that the music emits are also pointed up in performances of virtuosity and spirit.”
16th May 2009
“Kissin has much of what Prokofiev’s piano concertos need: percussive attack, springing clarity and the power to clobber an orchestra dead. You find them all in these accounts of the second and third concertos, taken from live London concerts with the Philharmonia under Vladimir Ashkenazy.”
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