Prokofiev: October Cantata, Stone Flower Excerpts / Jarvi, Philharmonia Orchestra

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For me the main attraction in this fascinating batch of discs is the magnificent Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution. It is here presented in its unbowdlerised version including Stalin's speeches towards the end. Kondrashin was forced to elide them in his first recording. However let's not confuse politics with musical worth troubling though the process of separating one from the other in a cantata of this type may be. The forces used are massive and they are used to huge effect. Loudness and awe are not of course enough. In fact this music has a dizzying concentration that is bound to impress and some poetry too.

The performance history of the piece is fascinating. Completed in 1937, it was buried by the denunciations of that era until 1966 when it was performed and then recorded -against the conductor's wishes - minus two crucial substantial episodes which set words by Stalin. This Chandos recording which is complete, faithful to the original schema as to instrumentation and has all sections as written was performed in this form for the first time anywhere outside Eastern Europe by Järvi at the RFH in 1992.

The choir is large and subdivided into two section - eight parts. There is a super-augmented orchestra with quadruple woodwind and eight horns alongside three augmentary instrumental groups: six accordions or bayans, a seventeen strong windband including six further trumpets to add to the four already in the orchestra and a percussion ensemble with alarm bells, cannon-shot, sirens (9:22 in Revolution tr. 6) and the kitchen sink. In the wild fervent rumpus that is Revolution the voice of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky rings out through a megaphone orating the words of Lenin. One can somehow see the smoke of insurrection, feel its sting, the howls of heightened awareness and hysteria and the bloody fervour of the words. This is the same movement in which the Bayan band appear. The bayans return for The Oath: Stalin's pledge in his speech at Lenin's bierside. It too burns with conviction - faithful to the original sentiments of the extension of the Communist International into a spreading worldwide alliance. It is greatly to the credit of the Philharmonia chorus and Simon Halsey that the flame burns bright, steady and intense. The final and tenth movement, The Constitution, again sets Stalin's words

There are no soloists except for Rozhdestvensky and his spoken cameo - the voice of the people speaking the words of their hortators into the dazzling sun. Overdose on grandiloquence and blazing fervour. In case you think this is all unremitting grandstanding the quietly intimate silvery sheen of the strings in Victory shines forth.

The notes are by Christopher Palmer and all the words are there in the booklet: transliterated Russian alongside French, German and English translations.

When this disc was first released in 1992 while not impossible to track down full recordings of Prokofiev's third Soviet ballet The Tale of the Stone Flower were difficult to come by. CPO and Chandos have put that right in style since. Even so there is a place for this twenty-five minute sequence from Prokofiev's full-length ballet: whooping brass, gypsy flavour, echoes of Romeo and Juliet (how could he escape it), dark clouded tension, shrieking tangy woodwind, the swayingly touching solo of the gypsy girl (tr.17) and stamping, crashing fury.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10537X

  • UPC: 095115153727

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Sergei Prokofiev

  • Conductor: Neeme Järvi

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Philharmonia Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra

  • Performer: Gennadi Rozhdestvensky