Prokofiev: Dreams, Autumnal Sketch, Lieutenant Kijé Suite, Etc / Neeme Järvi, Scottish NO
As we reach the centenary year, Neeme Jarvi continues the Prokofievian odyssey on which he embarked in the mid-1980s with one of this master's most popular works, the Suite from Lieutenant Kije and one of his least known, the ballet The Tale of the Stone Flower. I enjoyed Lieutenant Kije in Jarvi's hands more than I have for a long time: he has the measure of its sense of fantasy and magic, as well as its festive spirit. His is a splendidly characterful performance which has the benefit of an excellent Chandos recording.
The Andante, Op. 50bis is a transcription for full strings of the middle movement of the First String Quartet (1930): the only previous recording I can recall was Rozhdestvensky's 1963 account (HMV Melodiya—nla). As its opus number implies, Autumnal sketch is an early work, dating from 1910, only a year after the First Piano Sonata, though Prokofiev subsequently revised it twice, in 1914 and 1934. Not surprisingly it finds his musical language not fully formed, though his imagination is rich. The shades of Rachmaninov hover and Prokofiev himself confessed that its inspiration could be traced to certain Rachmaninov works, namely The isle of the dead and the Second Symphony. It is scored for small orchestra (double woodwind plus bass clarinet, trumpet, four horns, harp and strings) and makes resourceful use of these forces. I have to say that I found this performance just a little less atmospheric than Rozhdestvensky's 1971 account (HMV—nla) and felt that it could have benefited from a slightly more leisurely tempo.
I saw The Tale of the Stone Flower, the last of Prokofiev's full-scale ballets, in Paris in the 1960s and thought its inspiration neither as fresh nor as seemingly inexhaustible as Cinderella or Romeo and Juliet. It is infrequently performed though it was running to packed houses in Moscow last autumn. Rozhdestvensky's complete 1975 recording of the score (HMV—nla) dispelled the impression that this was just Prokofiev on automatic pilot. The present suite, one of three Prokofiev fashioned from the work, contains some attractive and characteristic ideas (as in the Dance of the fiancee's girl-friends and the Scene and waltz of the diamonds), which improve on repetition, and left me wishing that Chandos had persuaded Neeme Jarvi to record a more generous selection, or even the whole ballet! Not top-drawer Prokofiev perhaps but well worth having all the same.
-- Robert Layton, Gramophone, reviewing original release Chandos 8806 [2/1991]
Another excellent budget reissue … very desirable.
Here is yet another excellent budget reissue of various works that originally acted as fillers for the Järvi/Prokofiev symphony cycle of the 1980s. That cycle was – and is – very highly regarded (see review), as were other series devoted to Strauss and Shostakovich, so it’s no surprise that this disc is very desirable at budget price.
The most famous item on here is, of course, the suite from Lieutenant Kije, and that is the work that has the severest competition. I grew up on the famous Szell/ Cleveland LP, and remember marvelling at the orchestral precision and flamboyant rhythmic bite of the whole thing. Having not heard it for many years, I can’t honestly say how the RSNO stack up against the Clevelanders, but this is hugely enjoyable on its own terms. Järvi’s approach is not dissimilar to Szell’s; he keeps a tight rein on proceedings but lets the orchestra unleash its full force where required, as at the start of the famous Troika, which then goes at quite a lick. There’s bags of detailed wind and brass playing throughout – that lovely doleful solo cornet at the start – and a sense of fun mingles with the grip Järvi obviously has on the score.
The suite from the ballet The Stone Flower is, I suspect, much less well known. In fact, I seem to remember Järvi’s recording as being instrumental in bringing the music to a wider public. It’s mature Prokofiev and, as in many other instances, he created the suites (three of them in the end) because of the shelving of plans to mount the full ballet. This is the first suite, entitled The Wedding Suite – the others were Gypsy Fantasy and Urals Rhapsody – though conductor Jarvi has added other bits from the original to make up a substantial half-hour chunk. Even by this composer’s enviable standard, it’s rife with memorable melodic invention, with glorious soaring melodies – just sample The Amorous Dance (tr.10) to hear what I mean. It’s full of Prokofiev’s best thumbprints – melodic, rhythmic, timbral, instrumental – and is a delight to get to know. I don’t have a comparison to hand – in fact, there aren’t a great deal – but Järvi and his RSNO really lift their game and play with passion, commitment and real flair.
The three short items are also well worth having. Both Dreams and Autumnal are extremely early compositions from his conservatory days, and it’s easy to hear Debussy, Scriabin and Rachmaninov in the mix, but there are just those odd glimmers of the mature composer to come. Try them out on your musical friends and see who they come up with. The Andante is a transcription for full strings of the slow movement of the First String Quartet, and it could be argued that it benefits from the fuller textures, especially in the rich and expansive treatment from Järvi and his disciplined RSNO strings.
The sound is in the best tradition of the house and still provides demonstration listening on good quality equipment. With excellent notes by Noel Goodwin, this is very easy to favour.
Tony Haywood, MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: CHAN 10481 X
Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Conductor: Neeme Järvi
Orchestra/Ensemble: Royal Scottish National Orchestra