Serge Prokofiev, like most Soviet composers of Stalin's time, trod a very fine line between artistic freedom and the demands of his political overseers.
He left Russia shortly after the Revolution. While he was celebrated overseas from Japan to Chicago, and considered Paris his home, he always longed to return to Russia. After several successful concert tours to Moscow, he returned for good in 1936.
By then Stalin was firmly in power, and all music composed had to be formally sanctioned by the State. Stalin liked the classics but was opposed to "modernism" and the revolutionary thoughts it may incite.
In fact, in 1948, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Khachaturian were hauled up before Andrei Zhdanov and rebuked for writing "formalistic and anti-democratic" music. The rebuke was a veiled threat, and all three composers music became much less adventurous after this time, at least until after the death of Stalin.
Prokofiev actually wrote seven ballets, continuing the rich legacy of narrative Russian ballet started by Tchaikovsky. Romeo and Juliet
are the best known and significantly, both date from before the political clampdown on artistic freedom.
, commissioned by the Kirov Ballet, is a delicious work, full of light, color and bursting with wit. The score closely follows Perrault's classic story, the tender yearnings of Cinderella, the sumptuous waltz with the Prince and the dark, threatening chimes as the clock strike midnight.
It is surprising that it is less popular than Romeo and Juliet
score has more beautiful melodies, but also an acerbic bite and wit which adds zest. There is also less repetition of melodies, so the action flows smoothly and satisfyingly.
Vladimir Ashkenazy's performance must the gold standard for this work. This is a fairy tale, delicate and feminine, but like all fairy tales, has a dark undercurrent (and remember, Cinderella wa written during the darkest days of the Second World War). Ashkenazy makes the chiming of the clock sound like a thunderous battlefield, but the waltzes and love scenes sing.
Alexander Glazunov - The Seasons
Happily, Ashkenazy's other great orchestral recording is coupled with Cinderella
. Alexander Glazunov's The Seasons
is also a ballet, but in contrast to Cinderella
, has a non-narrative structure. The four seasons are divided into four tableaux, each consisting of a dance that represents the mood of the season.
A Polonaise represents Frost, a short dance scene for Ice, a Scherzo for Hail and finally and Waltz for Snow.
Two gnomes dispel Winter by lighting a fire, and Spring is celebrated by the arrival of the wild birds, and flowers.
Set amongst the cornflowers and poppies, the heat of the summer sun is relieved by water carrying naiads, dancing a graceful Bacarole.
Autumn is the season of frolic and wine. It begins with a Bacchanale, and the previous seasons are fondly remembered, spirits subdued by the falling of leaves.
Glazunov is often criticized for being overly Western and neglecting his Russian origins. He is undoubtedly a composer in the tradition of Tchaikovsky rather that the nationalists like Mussorgsky. This is however music that stands on its own two feet, and this performance exceptional.
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Serge Prokofiev - Cinderella
Alexander Glazunov - The Seasons
The Cleveland Orchestra
Compact Disc 1
Compact Disc 2
- Shawl Dance
- The Father
- The Fairy Godmother
- The Sisters' New Clothes
- The Dancing Lesson
- Departure Of The Stepmother And Sisters For The Ball
- Cinderella Dreams Of The Ball
- Second Appearance Of The Fairy Godmother
- Spring Fairy
- Summer Fairy
- Grasshoppers And Dragonflies
- Autumn Fairy
- Winter Fairy
- The Interrupted Departure
- The Clock
- Cinderella's Departure For The Ball
- Dance Of The Courtiers
- Court Dance (Passepied)
- Cavaliers' Dance (Bourree)
- Skinny's Var
- Dumpy's Var
- Dance Of The Courtiers (Repeat)
- Mazurka And Entrance Of The Prince
- Dance Of The Prince's Four Companions
- Mazurka (Repeat)
- Cinderella's Arrival At The Ball
- Grand Waltz
- Cinderella's Dance
- Dance Of The Prince
- Refreshments For The Guests
- Duet Of The Sisters With The Oranges
- Duet Of The Prince And Cinderella
- The Prince And The Cobblers
- First Galop Of The Prince
- Second Galop Of The Prince
- Oriental Dance
- Third Galop Of The Prince
- Cinderella's Awakening
- The Morning After The Ball
- The Prince's Visit
- The Prince Recognises Cinderella
- Amoroso: The Prince And Cinderella
- Winter - Intro - Frost - Ice - Hail - Snow
- Summer - Waltz Of The Cornflowers And Poppies/Barcarolle...
- Autumn - Bacchanale/Entries Of The Seasons/Petit Adagio...