Prokofiev and Richter – what they said and did
The day off has given me time to get my coughing sorted out, apologise and change my mind, writes David Pullen.
So I have just been reading up about Richter the great (or greatest?) of Russian pianists who premiered many of Prokofiev’s works. I came across a couple of quotes from him that endorse some of my more heretical beliefs e.g.:
(On listening to Bach) It does no harm to listen to Bach from time to time, even if only from a hygienic standpoint.
And, after much coaxing by the interviewer and embarrassment on his own part, Richter said that Haydn was better than Mozart. Now calm down he’s not denigrating Amadeus, just venerating the urbane and sane Joseph!
He was no cold intellectual – after being a witness at Riccardo Muti’s wedding, Richter reportedly played from memory the entire first act of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for a small group of wedding guests. What the hell beats that – all the optimism of love without the later denouement?
Getting back to the manic Prok.2, here is a note about “the most difficult of concertos”(not Richter):
Prokofiev’s 2nd because of its 10+-minute, soul-crushing, endurance-testing cadenza. The longest in standard repertoire. It also has a notoriously difficult scherzo that lasts only 2.5 minutes or so but in which the pianist never stops playing 16th notes in either hand. Not for a single rest. These notes have to be perfectly even and in unison. You can’t hide difficult parts with rubato. Make one mistake and you’re out of sync with the orchestra. You can’t use pedal. Clarity is essential. Each note has to be articulated. To produce this effect is very exhausting. It requires fingers of enormous strength and stamina. Check this out.
We have – seven times !! Well done to all of you pianists at the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition! and sorry for sounding ungrateful that you learned it – and then went on to play it. I love the work, so for me it will probably be the most memorable aspect of the competition, and you, who played it, nearly all got through! I’d love to have a recording of all your performances, as I find that I only reach the core of a great work by endless hearings of different performances.
I still don’t know whether Richter ever played no.2; he definitely never played the “easier” no 3. Prokofiev made his fortune playing this, but abandoned his wild child no 2. Here is an excellent programme note which corrects my memory – Richter said the Prok 2 sounded like a dragon devouring its young OUCH.
Will I have the opportunity in the next couple of days to mention another underrated hero – Liszt? His compact and joyous concertos were a great tonic amid all that Russian soul and bombast. This may not be fair really but, hey I’m a journalist for the week; so watch out for my links to the great man.
Come along and harangue me at your leisure, but buy a ticket first.
Stage Two Monday 29 February-Tuesday 1 March: Mozart and Beethoven concerti.
Contestants select two concerti from a list of eight, one from each composer. First movement only of each concerto, to be completed with cadenzas.
Morning session 10:00, afternoon session 13:15, evening session 18:00.
Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition: 25 February-5 March at the White Rock Theatre, White Rock, Hastings TN34 1JX.
Also in: Piano Concerto Competition diary« Masterclass (HIPCC 2016)
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