WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
Recorded in February 1997 in the Philharmonic Hall, Cologne by Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2004
CD No: CPO 999 975-2
Duration: 57 minutes
Chout (pronounced ‘shoot’) is one of Prokofiev’s least-played stage-works; maybe its experimental nature and sheer diversity makes it difficult to pigeonhole. Prokofiev did compile a 12-movement suite (some conductors choose from within that) and when the complete score is played, a narrator is sometimes sought to link the numbers with some story telling.
Yet as this first-class recording demonstrates, the complete ballet score needs no special pleading, the story of the buffoon and his wife confidence-tricking several clowns (real ones) by selling a supposedly magic whip, one that can restore dead (murdered) wives, is vividly told by the music. It’s a remarkable musical score too, one looking forward to more generous and lighter Prokofiev, one also breathing ‘new’ compositional air, one consciously distilling essentials in a Stravinsky-like manner, and one recognisably Russian (Stravinsky’s burlesque Petrushka, only a few years younger than Chout, is audibly present).
In Chout, Prokofiev’s distillation doesn’t denude either wide-eyed melody or pounding ostinatos; what stands out though is the clarity of the score – every note matters, and Prokofiev’s characterisation is vividly astute – even the simplest of gestures can be so meaningful.
There’s also a musical logic, one that underlines symphonically the processes irrespective of the requirements of the scenario and choreography. And the music is memorable whether one follows the synopsis, or lets the imagination be stirred by the strong musical ideas, or relishes the flow of invention from a ‘purely musical’ standpoint. There’s a glimpse of the ‘steel’ and dissonance of the around-the-corner Symphony No.2 (the ballet was first performed in Paris in 1921; the symphony followed in 1925) as well as something more sinister, an obliqueness of gesture that absorbs the attentive listener.
With clear, precisely balanced recorded sound that ensures that all of Prokofiev’s calculations are lucid, this fascinating score – one full of lively, rhythmic, melodious and ‘strange’ invention suggesting mystery, fantasy, darkness and irony, with dulcet lyricism, spiky beats and rhythmic guile rubbing shoulders – is given full rein. Michail Jurowski is a very sympathetic conductor of this repertoire and validates the logic underpinning the stylistic deviation. Indeed, what comes across very clearly is not only is this music of compelling vividness but also that the composer was wholly sure of his tactics.