Prom 14, Royal Albert Hall, review: Valery Gergiev's Prokofiev splurge has highs and lows

Trifonov/Babayan/Volodin/LSO/Gergiev

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The Independent Culture

Valery Gergiev loves the flashy gesture, and it was certainly flashy to programme all five of Prokofiev’s piano concertos in one evening, with three hot-shot Russian-school pianists doing the solo honours supported by the London Symphony Orchestra. Gergiev’s protégé Daniil Trifonov played the first concerto with the airy brilliance we now expect from him, and Gergiev, on the podium, let his interpretation of this youthful, ardent, nose-thumbing work flower as it needed to.

Two days previously at the Verbier festival we had seen Trifonov and his professor Sergei Babayan give a wonderfully poised account of Rachmaninov’s four-hand suites: now Babayan followed his pupil by playing Prokofiev’s second concerto. And while Trifonov had seemed like a bird in flight, Babayan exuded the gravity of a monumental sculpture in bronze, as he teased out the beauties of this more ruminative work.

Trifonov came back to give an enchanting account of the third concerto – the one everybody loves – after which Alexei Volodin officiated with the fourth, a left-hand extravaganza composed for the one-armed, war-wounded Paul Wittgenstein. But despite Volodin’s heroic efforts, one could see why Wittgenstein never wanted to play it: both this work and the fifth concerto (played by Babayan) gave the impression of a composer whose Muse had deserted him.

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