PROKOFIEV: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5

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Sergey Sergeyevich Prokofiev (1891 - 1953)

Symphony No.1 in D major, Op. 25 "Classical"

Symphony No.5 in B flat major, Op.100

Lieutenant Kije, Suite, Op. 60

March from The Love for Three Oranges, Suite, Op. 33bis

Sergey Prokofiev belongs to the generation of Russian musicians who completedtheir studies before the Communist Revolution of 1917. His early education hadbeen at home, where he had tuition from Gli?¿re, before entering the St.

Petersburg Conservatory on the advice of Glazunov at the age of thirteen. Forwhatever reason, whether of character, age or as the only child of his parents,he was to prove a recalcitrant student, finding little to his taste either inthe composition class of Lyadov or in the orchestration class ofRimsky-Korsakov, but meeting encouragement, at least, from Nikolay Myaskovskyand Boris Asaf'yev, fellow students nearer his own age.

In 1909 Prokofiev graduated in the composition class but decided to continueat the Conservatory as a student of the piano, acquiring a new sense oftechnical discipline under some duress and completing these studies in 1914.

Military service was to be avoided by enrollment as an organ student. Throughouthis time at the Conservatory he had written music that often impressed hiscontemporaries and shocked his elders, an effect that was doubtless achieved bydesign.

For some years after 1917 Prokofiev was to live abroad, winning increasingsuccess as a composer and as a pianist. The Soviet authorities, who had givenhim leave to travel, encouraged him to maintain connection with Russia throughreturn visits, rewarded in foreign currency, and finally welcomed his return tolive permanently in his native country in 1936, in the words of Shostakovich"to fall like a chicken into the soup".

The year 1936 brought the first official attack in Russia on formalism andmodernism in music, attacks to be renewed in 1948, when Prokofiev was condemnedby name. The effect was socially and artistically traumatic, and unfortunately,since he died on the same day as Stalin in 1953, he was never to experience thepartial relaxation that then took place.

In his Classical Symphony Prokofiev deliberately attempted a modernapproximation of the style of Haydn, at the same time experimenting withcomposition away from the piano. The result was a work of idiosyncratic charm,clear in its formal neoclassical outline and demanding all the meticulousattention to detail that the eighteenth century was able to give. The firstperformance took place in St. Petersburg in the early months of 1918, when hewas heard by the new People's Commissar for Education, a representative of theBolsheviks, who had seized power the preceding November. It was in part thesuccess of this work that enabled Prokofiev to carry out his intention ofleaving Russia with official permission. The Classical Symphony re-interpretsthe eighteenth century with wit and elegance. The lyrical slow movement isfollowed by a wayward Gavotte, its principal melody with a strange twist in thetail, and a final movement of great brilliance.

The fifth of Prokofiev's seven symphonies, discounting two very earlyattempts at the genre, was written in 1944, culminating, as he suggested, a longperiod in his creative life. The Fourth Symphony, which uses materialfrom the ballet The Prodigal Son, had been completed in 1930. The newwork, which bears some resemblance in thematic material to the Flute Sonata ofthe previous year, is in four movements, grandiose and unified in conception.

Its first performance coincided with the advance of Russian troops over theVistula into Germany and, the first symphony that Prokofiev had written sincehis return to Russia, expressed the feelings of the time. The work, in short,proved acceptable to its first audience, who greeted it with enthusiasm, and tothe authorities.

The first movement couples considerable strength with unexpected twists ofmelody that are highly characteristic of the composer. The scherzo that followshas an equally characteristic melody over a constant accompanying pattern, witha touch of that other condemned formalist Khachaturian about its trio. The Adagiois a movement of sustained lyricism, with a fiercely dramatic middlesection, and the final movement, with its initial reminiscence of the opening ofthe symphony, brings the work to an ebullient and triumphant close.

The well known music for Lieutenant Kije was written in 1933 for afilm, the first of a number of highly successful film-scores that Prokofiev wasto write during the next ten years. Directed by Alexander Feinzimmer and basedon a story by Yuri Tynyanov, the film is a satire on official stupidity andsubservience, set in the time of Tsar Paul, son of Catherine the Great. Aclerical error adds a non-existent officer to a list presented to the Tsar, whothen singles out this man, Lieutenant Kije for special notice. The officialsare too afraid to reveal the true state of affairs, and the fictitiouslieutenant goes on from honour to honour, interrupted only by temporary disgraceand exile to Siberia, subsequent pardon and promotion to the rank of general. Heis finally buried in an empty coffin. Prokofiev arranged the Suite from LieutenantKije in 1934.

The opera The Love for Three Oranges, is based on a play by the 18thcentury Venetian writer Carlo Gozzi, originally designed as a riposte to hisrival Goldoni. Prokofiev wrote his own libretto, based on a Russian versiongiven him by its co-author Vsevolod Meyerhold in Petrograd, and completed thework in 1919. It was first staged, after some two years delay, at the ChicagoOpera in 1921. The story is of an opera in which initial attempts to induce themelancholy Prince to laugh are thwarted by Fata Morgana. His first sign ofmirth, when the wicked fairy stumbles, leads to her curse, condemning him tosearch for three oranges, guarded by a bass giantess. The oranges are found in akitchen, taken to the desert and opened to reveal inside a beautiful maiden. Thefirst two die of thirst, but the third is saved by timely intervention of thestage audience with a bucket of water. She becomes the Prince's bride, althoughmomentarily turned into a rat, before the happy conclusion of the piece. Thepresent excerpts include the well known March.

The Slovak Philhannonic Orchestra

The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work ofits distinguished conductors. These include Vaclav Talich (1949 -1952), LudovitRajter, Ladislav Slovak and Libor Pesek. Zdenek Kosler has also had a long anddistinguished association with the orchestra and hasconducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the completesymphonies of Dvořak.

During the years of its professional existence the Slovak Philhannonic hasworked under the direction of many of themost distinguished conductors fromabroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm Sargentto Claudio Abbado, Antal Doratiand Riccardo Muti. The orchestra has undertaken many tours abroad, includingvisits to Gennany and Japan, and has made a large number of recordings for theCzech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years, for theMarco Polo and Naxos labels. These recordings include works by Gli?¿re, Spohr,Respighi, Rubinstein, Bax, Suchonand Miaskovsky and have brought the orchestra agrowing international reputation and praise from the critics of leadinginternational publications.

Stephen Gunzenhauser
Disc: 1
The Love for Three Oranges Suite, Op. 33bis: No. 3
1 I. Allegro
2 II. Larghetto
3 III. Non troppon allegro
4 IV. Molto vivace
5 I. Andante
6 II. Allegro marcato
7 III. Adagio
8 IV. Allegro giocoso
9 I. The Birth of Kije
10 II. Romance
11 III. Kije's Wedding
12 IV. Troika
13 The Love for Three Oranges Suite, Op. 33bis: No. 3
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