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CLASSICAL  April 2010

CLASSICAL April 2010

Subject:

Prokofieff Incidental Music

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 6 Apr 2010 16:12:20 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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Sergei Prokofieff
Incidental Music

*  Hamlet (1937-38)
*  Boris Godunov (1936)
*  Eugen Onegin, op. 71
*  Egyptian Nights

Marina Domaschenko, mezzo
Victor Sawaley, tenor
Yuri Swatenko, tenor
Boris Statsenko, baritone
Chulpan Chamatova, speaker
Jakob Kuef, speaker
RIAS Chamber Choir
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Michail Jurowski
Capriccio 7001  Total time: 188:39 (3 CDs)

Summary for the Busy Executive: At least one real discovery.

Prokofiev's incidental music has languished as an orphan child to his
ballets and operas.  One can understand this in light of the fact that
only two of the four productions listed here made it to performance --
Hamlet and Egyptian Nights -- mostly due to Soviet bureaucratic stupidity,
fear of getting Stalin angry, and anti-Semitism against one of the
directors.  The good old days of the Soviet utopia.  Prokofiev put the
scores away, recycling some of the music in other works.  Excerpts from
some, if not all, of these scores have received recordings.  A couple
of discs have the full scores.  This might be one of them; it claims
to present all the numbers Prokofiev wrote.

The composer theorized about incidental music and concluded that it
served the drama.  If a scene was already dramatic, it didn't need music.
Furthermore, music shouldn't get in the way of the spoken word.  This
may lead some to believe that Prokofiev wrote inconspicuous music for
these plays.  He may have intended to (it's certainly nothing like, say,
the Sixth Symphony), but he couldn't really pull off blah.  Even his
failures (and critics disagree as to which of his works fail) compel a
listener's attention.

Prokofiev certainly got A-level material to set: Shakespeare and Pushkin.
The Hamlet really is functioning incidental music, with mood-setting,
scene changes, and songs for Ophelia and the Gravedigger.  It doesn't
cohere as an independent suite.  However, the individual numbers are
fabulous.  It's the same with the music to Boris.  Don't expect Mussorgsky's
bell-ringing Coronation Scene.  However, Boris's daughter, Xenia, gets
a beautiful song, in an idiom I would have thought outside Prokofiev's
range.

The composer made an orchestral suite of Egyptian Nights (an unfinished
Pushkin short story based on the tale of Antony and Cleopatra), which
for me comes from his second drawer.  Of course, Prokofiev's second
drawer often outdoes many another composer's first.  Here he does not
write isolated numbers but makes extensive use of musical themes
representing people and ideas, which helps the score cohere.

The real find is the Eugen Onegin (I follow the spelling on the German
CD), absolutely new to me, although it has received at least six recordings.
The music comes to just below the level of Romeo and Juliet of the
previous year and also foreshadows Cinderella, to give you some idea of
what the music sounds like.  This is Prokofiev at his most lyric and
with his habitual texture (usually for night and love) of low bass and
high strings, with a solo woodwind in the middle.  Much of this score
ravishes.

The performers are all solid.  Jurowski gives his all to every work
here.  However, for me the CD has a serious flaw: namely, the inclusion
of a lot of melodrama, in which a speaker intones text over the music.
My standard line runs, "If the text is interesting, the music detracts,
and if the music is interesting, the text detracts." Here, the music has
the lion's share of the interest, mainly because the text is Russian, a
language that few people not born in that country speak.  I certainly
don't, so the speakers might as well recite Sid Caesar doubletalk.
Furthermore, Capriccio provides no texts.  I understand the desire to
follow faithfully Prokofiev's intentions, but, really, was this necessary
or even smart?  The music can stand on its own, without the spoken word.
The sound is acceptable, without veering into either the horrid or
super-wow.  Perhaps if melodrama doesn't annoy you as much as it does
me or if you speak Russian, you may enjoy this disc sans reservation.
I myself enjoyed a lot of it.

Steve Schwartz

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