Alexander Gavrylyuk / Vladimir Ashkenazy

Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 1, 2 & 4 "Left Hand"

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Alexander Gavrylyuk and Vladimir Ashkenazy with the Sydney Symphony take on three piano concertos by Sergey Prokofiev. Each concerto has its own character and the musicians convey Prokofiev's wide variety of emotions. In the stately beginning of Piano Concerto No. 1, one can really hear the lower strings contrasted with the high, tinkling piano (though the middle register instruments could have been mixed better on the recording). Gavrylyuk's piano entrance shows an active, sparkling sound that is useful and athletic. He is also very rhythmically precise, and this comes across in the excellent recording quality used for the solo instrument. Though the second movement is a typical slower second movement, it is not merely a nod to convention, but rather its own particular work. The strings create a slightly eerie atmosphere, but the third movement turns playful and cheery again. Some of the piano lines sound as though the left and right hands are working at odds with each other, yet somehow together. Piano Concerto No. 2 is an entirely different work, a departure from the first concerto. The first movement uses interesting orchestral colors, and it is very quiet and reflective. Prokofiev creates a lush, unusual tone-atmosphere, punctuated later by rapid rhythms, an ominous brass and drum beginning to the third movement, and little runs and swoops on the piano that Gavrylyuk executes perfectly. Piano Concerto No. 4 initially feels like a fun, lively dialogue between the orchestra and piano. Prokofiev uses some unusual tonalities, with some passages sounding rather like the soundtrack to a science fiction film. Gavrylyuk plays without difficulty throughout the various moods, playing boldly or mysteriously when he needs to, as in the cat-like entrance in the second movement. The third movement is really the true finale, with its perfectly synchronized orchestral unisons and comical ending, for the fourth movement is virtually a coda, a little over a minute and a half long. Sometimes the second and third concertos can sound a bit rambling in their own way, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly, Prokofiev wrote program music, but these piano concertos are an entirely different group of unique works by the Russian master.

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