This Concert of Prokofiev and Mahler by the Concertgebouw Will Lodge Resolutely in the Memory


Dresden Music Festival 2018

Dresdner Musikfestspiele 2018 [6] – Prokofiev, Mahler: Daniil Trifonov (piano), Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Daniele Gatti (conductor), Kulturpalast, Dresden, Germany 16.5.2018. (MC)

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Daniele Gatti (conductor) & Daniil Trifonov (piano)
(c) Oliver Killig

Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No.3

Mahler – Symphony No.1

Dresdner Musikfestspiele attracts the world’s most famous performers and orchestras and tonight’s concert was performed by Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, universally acknowledged as one of the foremost symphony orchestras in the world. Taking the baton was chief conductor Daniele Gatti for two works – Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto and the centerpiece Mahler First Symphony, two of the most admired works of their genre and written just over thirty years apart.

Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov commenced the concert with Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. One of the most admired twentieth century concertos it was written in the summer of 1921 whilst Prokofiev was holidaying on the Brittany coast during his exile from Soviet Russia. A brilliant work that boldly makes its presence felt, it is not too difficult to imagine the score as an expression of the turbulence occurring back in the composer’s homeland. Immediately this emotionally charged work exploded into life with Trifonov in quite sparkling form, playing animatedly with seemingly boundless reserves of energy yet always maintaining focus of concentration and precision. I was struck by the exhilarating changes of tempo and mood in the central theme and variations. This was edge of the seat playing from Trifonov in the thrilling Finale that exuded vitality and exhilaration. Whenever I hear a performance of the score is hard not to compare with the quite stunning 1967 Berlin account that Martha Argerich made with Claudio Abbado. Buoyed by premium support from the Concertgebouw, it felt as if Trifonov’s performance came close to matching the boldness, power and communicative quality of Argerich’s account.

Given the admiration and sheer pleasure that contemporary audiences gain from Mahler’s glorious symphonic offerings it is hard to comprehend that his symphonies only started to become popular after World War II. The premiere of the First Symphony in Budapest in 1889 resulted in bewilderment and rejection, arousing hostility in some quarters. Infused with the bold impetuosity of the young composer the symphony is an astoundingly accomplished work demonstrated impressively by this gripping Concertgebouw performance.

The Milan maestro’s coherent and expressive interpretation of the opening movement contained a trance-like quality, revealing a disturbing undercurrent of tension. Throughout, the augmented brass section was in superior form, so adroit at maintaining razor-sharp playing including off stage trumpets which sounded most effective.

Big-boned yet agile the Scherzo was full of surprises, containing some juicy textures. Commenced by a solo horn the highly affectionate Ländler felt expressively Viennese in flavour. On form, the string section with its golden toned high strings and the deep and richly weighted cellos and basses, is a model for any orchestra. With its lumbering and sardonic funeral march, the slow movement was handled admirably by Gatti, resulting in such highly effective playing. Striking was the convincing representation of Mahler’s klezmer band which sounded suitably tawdry and mocking.

Vibrantly rustic, the woodwind contributions with their numerous nature calls were simply outstanding, supported by some delightfully swooning string playing. Pounding percussion and biting, snarling brass led the way in the Finale with Gatti generating playing of remarkable potency. Surely few failed to cherish the delicious love melody played so irresistibly on the wonderful high strings. Gatti unleashed stentorian power from the Concertgebouw to create an earth shattering final climax. It was a privilege just to be in Kulturpalast to experience such a magnificent performance which crackled with energy and drama.

Unquestionably this concert by the Concertgebouw will lodge resolutely in the memory as it was quite simply one of the most special I have ever experienced.

Michael Cookson


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