Prokofiev’s most popular Piano Concerto came between two ‘lost’ works from other celebrated composers. Stravinsky’s Funeral Song – composed in 1908 in honor of Rimsky-Korsakov – disappeared after a single performance. Since it was unearthed in the library of the St Petersburg Conservatory in 2015 Funeral Song has enjoyed multiple international outings and is the missing link between Stravinsky’s early works and his breakthrough score for The Firebird. An appropriately mournful melody dominates. First sounded on horn, it is then passed from instrument to instrument in a slow and steady processional as each delivers their farewells against a low-pitched background of tremolo mutterings. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducted this emotionally powerful piece with exuberance and elegance, and the Philadelphia musicians played with extraordinary beauty and clarity.
Following intermission, Rachmaninov’s First Symphony (1895), also an early work missing for decades; a notorious flop at its 1897 premiere, the parts were not found until 1945, two years after the composer’s death. Despite Nézet-Séguin’s best efforts, the committed playing of the Philadelphians, and some glittering chamber-like moments – such as the violin’s gypsy air in the opening movement and the exquisitely soft melody from clarinet in the lyrical Larghetto – the piece came across as overly long, episodic, and too-thickly orchestrated.
As centerpiece, in Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, from her exuberant entrance onwards Beatrice Rana made her vitality plain, outstanding in every way, piano and orchestra constantly challenging each other in a well-balanced and highly dramatic account marked by exceptional wit and warmth, and the orchestral playing was breathtaking: the Finale found Rana and the ensemble caught up in a brilliant and blustering argument, feeding off each other’s enthusiasm. For an encore Rana offered a poetic, colorful and beautifully contoured rendering of the first of Chopin’s Opus 25 Etudes, known as ‘Aeolian Harp’.