The premiere of the Fifth Piano Concerto was held in 1999. From a 67-year-old composer we might have anticipated a refined piece of chamber music... but if the first two movements of the Concerto indicate a diminution of the concerto style, a type of “play upon silence,” then in the finale the powerful explosion of rhythmic energy and mighty force of sound drowns out the fading voice of the departing century and instead recalls the great multicoloured creations of innovative music, such as Prokofievs Second Piano Concerto and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Silence can indeed be sensed as Shchedrin’s concerto begins. This is by no means a chamber orchestra (there is a large string section), yet instrumental colour is employed with gusto, while the piano suggests cautious footsteps crossing a fragile surface. The opening theme of the first movement forms the basis of the entire composition. The music then moves more freely, beyond “cautious footsteps,” reaching the culmination, and towards the end becoming sotto voce again.
As at the beginning, the musical expressiveness is extraordinary: the author writes the solo as dolce and cantabile, preserving its rare laconicism.
The second movement contains familiar melodic material (heard in the first movement); however, the delicate rhythmic pulse slows and everything appears stronger and in sharper relief.