Zdravitsa (Hail to Stalin), Op.85
Flourish, Mighty Land, Op.114
Egyptian Nights, Op.61
CHANDOS CHAN 10056
On the Dnieper, Op.51
Songs of Our Days, Op.76
CHANDOS CHAN 10044
Russian State Symphonic Cappella
Russian State Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in April and August 2002
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: April 2003
CD No: See below
An expansive melody opens Zdravitsa and is contrasted with folksy material – syncopated, light-hearted: all is well with the world, the Soviet world according to Stalin. Hail to Stalin is an enjoyable piece, slightly too long, and while one reflects that Stalin’s dictatorship forced itself onto Prokofiev’s creativity, the end result is a skilled and colourful piece of homage for Stalin’s 60th-birthday.
Autumnal is a pre-Soviet work from 1910. Shadowy impressionism and searching harmonies hold the attention.
The remaining pieces are all from Soviet times, a mix of theatrical and political works. The music for Hamlet is mood setting and powerfully declamatory, and includes memorable solos for soprano and baritone. Flourish, Mighty Land begins with a rather jaunty trumpet tune that is taken up by other instruments and piquantly developed into something more brazenly ceremonial, the chorus – the people of Stalin? – sings that “flourish is freedom … grow, Soviet land, you are bursting with radiant youth.” Public indoctrination with music that’s better than it needs to be, even if Prokofiev’s invention is somewhat stilted.
The music for Egyptian Nights, a ’thirties theatre-mix of Pushkin, Shaw and Shakespeare, draws from Prokofiev an evocative, at times sinister score, darkly coloured and character embracing. ’The Alarm’ will please listeners with a penchant for percussion. Performances throughout are persuasive.
The second CD of unfamiliar Prokofiev begins with the 40-minute On the Dnieper, which was the last ballet score Diaghilev commissioned. The relative simplicity of Prokofiev’s music is attractive; the soft-centred lyricism always seems on the cusp of something interesting and, indeed, plenty of good things arrive. Polyansky has an innate feel for the gentle and unrushed aspects of the music. Movement markings include ’Andante dolce’, ’Allegro amabile’, ’Andante con eleganza’ and ’Andante amoroso’. That should give you an idea of the music’s flow and nature! On the Dnieper is a very likeable work.
Songs of Our Days begins with an upbeat march, perhaps I mean banal, and the 25-minute, 9-section work is eminently straightforward, a celebration of locality and the proletariat, socialist ideology in music – “Stalin! That is his great name!” Prokofiev’s craftsmanship is not in doubt, but the music is scarcely memorable once past the peasant-like strophes. Very committed performances though.
The large acoustic brings vibrancy and vividness; sometimes too much. The clarity of colours is impressive and the sound is vibrant and detailed in an ambient acoustic; the halo of acoustic space is though somewhat unhelpful to focussed listening and there is an edge to the sound in fully scored fortissimos; plenty of presence and clarity too.
Musical chips off Prokofiev’s block most of these works might be – but it’s a very significant block, and these chips are chunky, full of flavour, and add to our awareness of Prokofiev’s creative output.