Piano Concerto No. 2 1913/1924 | 31 mins
“The charges of surface brilliance and certain ‘soccer-player’ tendencies in the First [Piano] Concerto induced me to strive for greater depth in the Second,” Prokofiev once said. If such was his goal, then he most certainly succeeded. His Second Concerto impresses with its variety of moods. It also does not come up short in athletic brilliance, as Prokofiev’s comment might be taken to imply—many believe that technically, it is the most unremittingly taxing of all his piano concertos. Even Prokofiev, who was soloist at its world premiere, experienced anxiety when playing it. In his diary he described what went through his mind when he performed the work in Moscow: “I come out to play in a more or less calm frame of mind. But I do not manage to stay calm during the most difficult parts.”
Symphony No. 2 1907 | 56 mins
Rachmaninoff used to be criticized for wearing his heart on his sleeve; but, really, who would be so callous as to complain that such music as this enriches our world? The Second Symphony is trademark Rachmaninoff. In the words of one of his contemporaries: “Despite his thirty-four years, [Rachmaninoff] is one of the most significant figures in the contemporary music world, a worthy successor to Tchaikovsky, if not in the dimensions of his talent . . . then certainly in its concentration, sincerity, and subjective delicacy. This was confirmed most impressively by the new E minor Symphony. . . . How beautiful it is!”
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.