PROKOFIEV: Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra / Cello Concertino (Alexander Hornostai/ Alexander Rudin/ Theodore Kuchar/ Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553624)
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The work we now know as the Symphony-Concerto has had a very convoluted history. It started out in 1934 when Prokofiev was enjoying life in France. That was just before he knew he had to return to his musical roots in Moscow, though he was never in doubt that he would find he had the displeasure of the Communist party.
He resumed work on the concerto in 1938, and it was first performed in the November of that year. Such a tonally adventurous work was almost guaranteed to be condemned by the Communist party. It was not performed again until in 1947, when a young cellist called Mstislav Rostropovich had a piano part made of the orchestral score, and played it at the Conservatoire. This time the composer felt he had unjustly neglected the work, and promised to revise it together with Rostropovich. Sadly the following year he was to suffer the Communist party's official condemnation.
He put off the revision, but wrote the young man a Cello Sonata. That only brought the two together again, and after a lengthy stay at the Prokofiev home, the Second Cello Concerto was written, as a direct revision of the First. But before it was performed he was to revise it to form the Sinfonia Concertante, and in that form it received its first performance in February 1952.
It is a dialogue - not always friendly - between soloist and orchestra, and is in three movements that are totally opposite to normal concerto convention. The opening and last movements being the slow ones, and the middle movement a fast allegro guisto. This latter movement makes very heavy demands on the technical command of the soloist. Even within a movement there are violent mood changes, the finale in three distinct sections.
The tragic irony was for Prokofiev to die on the exact day that the dictator, Joseph Stalin, was to expire. He therefore never knew the freedom that Russians were later to enjoy, together with his acceptance there as one of the most remarkable composers of the 20th century.
He died leaving the Cello Concertino - intended for Rostropovich - incomplete, and it was the great cellist and the composer, Kabalevsky, who completed the score. The word 'Concertino' suggests something lightweight, but that is far from the case, the work serious and strong in character. It is, however, short, and lasts just under twenty minutes, two slowish movements leading to a final allegretto.
The disc is completed by the Two Pushkin Waltzes, composed in 1949. They are bitter-sweet scores that have never entered the concert repertoire.
The soloist, Alexander Rudin, was born in Moscow in 1960, and studied at the Gnessin Institute, and subsequently turned his attention to conducting as a student at the Moscow Conservatoire. He now leads a career in both fields, those who have had the privilege of hearing him as a cellist being stunned by his sheer brilliance. He still finds time to teach at the Moscow Conservatory, and in recent years founded the Cello Competition in New Zealand, which quickly established itself as one of music's international major events.
The orchestra is conducted by their Musical Director, Theodore Kucher. Born in America, he began life as a viola player of great distinction, but later became interested in conducting, and was fortunate to study with Leonard Bernstein, Andre Previn and Colin Davis. He too leads a multi-faceted life, conducting in America, directing the annual Australian Chamber Music Festival in Townsville, and conducting the Ukraine orchestra in an extensive concert season and on tour.
One of Europe's top Producer/Engineer's, Tim Handley, went to the Ukraine in December 1995 to make this outstanding disc, recorded in the Concert Studio of the Radio in Kiev.
We are in competition with many highly acclaimed versions of the Symphony-Concerto and there is a version by Rostropovich that couples the Concertino. But we have the strong advantage of price, this disc being the only one in the budget range. It is works on the fringe of the standard repertoire that people will try IF it is at the Naxos price. We have that major advantage, and to help capture customer attention the sleeve is a stunning painting 'The Thaw' by Vasilyev.
Finally do not forget that Prokofiev came from the Ukraine, and our Prokofiev cycle is the first time their national orchestra has added that idiomatic flavour to the record catalogue.