The Tale of the Stone Flower, Op.118
Recorded January 2003 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2003
CD No: CHANDOS 10058(2)
It’s a shame that The Tale of the Stone Flower remains relatively unknown in its complete form. It’s a wholly enjoyable work, maybe too long at 150 minutes, yet there’s enough variety and enjoyment to sustain its length.
The story is based on Russian legend, which Prokofiev complements with folk-related, festive and lyrical music that is charming, colourful, vibrant and descriptive. The sequence of dances in Act 3 – Ural, Russian and Gypsy – might be a good place to sample. It’s an epic score (with a suitably expansive epilogue) – a twentieth-century equivalent, maybe, to Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. If the music itself is not quite of that stature, Prokofiev’s melodic and theatrical gifts win through, and one senses through the composer’s lavish craft that he had particular affection for the scenario. A shame, then, that he didn’t live to see the ballet produced.
If The Stone Flower lacks the drama of Romeo and Juliet or the piquant charm of Cinderella, and maybe Prokofiev’s self-borrowing from earlier works brings a distracting quality, there is much pleasure to be found – in Prokofiev’s melodic insouciance, rhythmic guile and fastidious orchestration.
The performance is superb. Gianandrea Noseda brings a gently flowing manner to intimate moments and sharply etches the more demonstrative pages; there’s no lack of dramatic resonance when required. The BBC Philharmonic plays quite superbly; more importantly, the musicians seem very sympathetic to a score that I imagine few will have come across before. While I can’t make out what the trilling sound between 1’11”-1’14” on track 3 of the first CD is, I can report that the ambience and clarity of Studio 7 comes into its own with a score like this.