PROKOFIEV: Orchestral Suites (Andrew Mogrelia/ Rudolf Hentsel/ Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550381)
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Sergey Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)
Lieutenant Kije (Suite Op. 60)
The Love for Three Oranges (Highlightsfrom Suite Op. 33bis)
Romeo and Juliet (from Suites 1 & 2Op. 64)
Cinderella (Suite No.1 Op. 107)
Sergey Prokofiev was born in 1891 atSontsovka in the Ukraine, the son of a prosperous estate manager. An onlychild, his musical talents were fostered by his mother, a cultured amateurpianist, and he tried his hand at composition at the age of five, later beingtutored at home by the composer Gli?¿re. In 1904, on the advice of Glazunov, hisparents allowed him to enter the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where hecontinued his studies as a pianist and as a composer unti11914, owing more tothe influence of senior fellow-students Asafyev and Myaskovsky than to theolder generation of teachers, represented by Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov.
Even as a student Prokofiev had begun tomake his mark as a composer, arousing enthusiasm and hostility in equalmeasure, and inducing Glazunov, now director of the Conservatory, to walk outof a performance of The Scythian Suite, fearing for his sense ofhearing. During the war he gained exemption from military service by enrollingas an organ student and after the Revolution was given permission to travelabroad, at first to America, taking with him the scores of The Scythian Suite,arranged from a ballet originally commissioned by Dyagilev, the ClassicalSymphony and his first Violin Concerto.
Unlike Stravinsky and Rakhmaninov,Prokofiev had left Russia with official permission and with the idea ofreturning home sooner or later. His stay in the United States of America was atfirst successful. He appeared as a solo pianist and wrote the opera The Lovefor Three Oranges for the Chicago Opera. By 1920, however, he had begun tofind life more difficult and moved to Paris, where he re-established contactwith Dyagilev, for whom he revised The Tale of the Buffoon, a balletsuccessfully mounted in 1921. He spent much of the next sixteen years inFrance, returning from time to time to Russia, where his music was stillacceptable.
In 1936 Prokofiev decided to settle oncemore in his native country, taking up residence in Moscow in time for the firstofficial onslaught on music that did not sort well with the political andsocial aims of the government, aimed in particular at the hitherto successfulopera A Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Shostakovich. Twelveyears later the name of Prokofiev was to be openly joined with that ofShostakovich in an even more explicit condemnation of formalism, withparticular reference now to Prokofiev's opera War and Peace. He died in 1953 onthe same day as Joseph Stalin, and thus never benefited from the subsequentrelaxation in official policy to the arts.
As a composer Prokofiev was prolific. Hisoperas include the remarkable Fiery Angel, first performed in its entirety inParis the year after his death, with ballet-scores in Russia for Romeo andJuliet and Cinderella. The last of his seven symphonies wascompleted in 1952, the year of his unfinished sixth piano concerto. His pianosonatas form an important addition to the repertoire, in addition to his songsand chamber music, film-scores and much else, some works overtly serving thepurposes of the state. In style his music is often astringent in harmony, butwith a characteristically Russian turn of melody and, whatever Shostakovich mayhave thought of it, a certain idiosyncratic gift for orchestration that giveshis instrumental music a particular piquancy.
The well known music for Lieutenant Kijewas written in 1933 for a film, the first of a number of highly successfulfilm-scores that Prokofiev was to write during the next ten years. Directed byAlexander Feinzimmer and based on a story by Yuri Tynyanov, the film is asatire on official stupidity and subservience, set in the time of Tsar Paul,son of Catherine the Great. A clerical error adds a non-existent officer to alist presented to the Tsar, who then singles out this man, Lieutenant Kije, forspecial notice. The officials are too afraid to reveal the true state ofaffairs, and the fictitious lieutenant goes on from honour to honour,interrupted only by temporary disgrace and exile to Siberia, subsequent pardonand promotion to the rank of general. He is finally buried in an empty coffin.
Prokofiev arranged the Suite from Lieutenant Kijee in 1934.
The opera The Love for Three Oranges,is based on a play by the 18th century Venetian writer Carlo Gozzi, originallydesigned as a riposte to his rival Goldoni. Prokofiev wrote his own libretto,based on a Russian version given him by its co-author Vsevolod Meyerhold inPetrograd, and completed the work in 1919. It was first staged, after some twoyears delay, at the Chicago Opera in 1921. The story is of an opera in whichinitial attempts to induce the melancholy Prince to laugh are thwarted by FataMorgana. His first sign of mirth, when the wicked fairy stumbles, leads to hercurse, condemning him to search for three oranges, guarded by a bass giantess.
The oranges are found in a kitchen, taken to the desert and opened to revealinside a beautiful maiden. The first two die of thirst, but the third is savedby timely intervention of the stage audience with a bucket of water. Shebecomes the Prince's bride, although momentarily turned into a rat, before thehappy conclusion of the piece. The present excerpts include the well knownMarch, the Scherzo from the third act and the music for the happy denouement.
The ballet-score Romeo and Juliet
was originally intended for the Leningrad State Academic Theatre, renamed theKirov in 1934, when the projected ballet was rejected, to be taken over byMoscow's Bolshoy but turned down as undanceable by the management in thefollowing year, after the preparation of the piano score. Completed in 1936, itwas first staged in Brno in 1938 and only mounted in Russia by the Kirov Balletin 1940 and by the Bolshoy in 1946. The present recording includes the Act IMadrigal from the first of the three suites that Prokofiev made from the scorefor concert use, and the Dance of the Girls with the Lilies from thethird act, the prelude to the discovery of Juliet, apparently dead on themorning of her wedding.
(Zolushka) was written during the war, between 1940 and 1944, and staged at theBolshoy in 1945. The Kirov, evacuated to Perm in the Urals, had originallyproposed to mount the work, but there were delays, in good part the result ofrestrictions of space in the small provincial theatre then available. In threeacts, the ballet follows the commonly accepted Western European version of thestory of Cinderella, with its comic and grotesque elements exaggerated. Thefirst of the three suites that the composer drew from the score opens with theIntroduction to Act I, followed by the inserted quarrel between the UglySisters, here known as Skinny and Fatty. The Fairy Godmother and Winter Fairybring encouragement and Cinderella goes to the ball. The Waltz and Midnight endthe first act, as Cinderella beats a hasty retreat.
Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra(Kosice)
The East Slovakian town of Kosice boastsa long and distinguished musical tradition, as part of a province that onceprovided Vienna with musicians. The State Philharmonic Orchestra is ofrelatively recent origin and was established in 1968 under the conductorBystrik Rezucha. Subsequent principal conductors have included Stanislav Macuraand Ladislav slovak, the latter succeeded in 1985 by his pupil Richard Zimmer.
The orchestra has to