Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26
This tour de force concerto begins with a languid and thoughtful melodic gem sung by a solo clarinet. A second clarinet quickly joins, and soon the full orchestra awakens with the violins singing an intoxicating rendition of the opening melody. With barely a moment to conclude the phrase, the piano enters with a virtuosic flurry of sixteenth notes, like a rapid-fire passage from a Bach Toccata. The concerto is off and running, never stopping to look back.
Sergei Prokofiev left Russia after the Revolution in 1918 and lived in America and Europe for nearly 20 years, returning permanently to the Soviet Union in 1936. His monumental Third Piano Concerto premiered in Chicago in 1921 and was a rousing success. The work was described as “big, sincere, true.” “Prokofiev was given a thundering ovation that at least in a slight degree expressed the tumultuous emotions he inspired.”
As a 13-year-old composer devouring music of all genres and styles, I found this piece utterly fascinating. Prokofiev was speaking a language that sounded so magical, fresh, and compelling. It was modern for sure, with its edgy momentum and relentless rhythmic motor, but it was also hauntingly lyrical. Prokofiev designed the concerto with traditional classical structures of harmonic language and formal design, yet the music was seemingly spontaneous and effortlessly agile. This music made me a devout devotee of Prokofiev, and I would begin a lifelong study of his works and life. This performance features the incomparable Martha Argerich. It is impossible to overstate the technical and musical facility of this great artist. Her command of Prokofiev’s exacting challenges is breathtaking and never ceases to inspire me. She manages to bring endless new dimensions to this great work of art.