Notes and Editorial Reviews
Scenes de ballet
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, cond; BBC SO
BBC LEGENDS 4204 (77:34) Live: London 8/18/1987; 4/29/1981
In the early 1970s, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky was one of my
favorite conductors. His Melodiya recordings were invariably bold and bracing with crisp attacks, snappy rhythms, and brisk tempos. Moreover, he seemed intent upon recording every note of Prokofiev’s orchestral music, which was certainly okay by me. These days I prefer a softer, more lyrical approach to Prokofiev’s music, though I still return to those old discs from time to time and marvel at the freshness and vitality of the conductor’s approach.
These concerts, however, date from the 1980s and find the conductor in a far more reflective mood than usual. Perhaps being away from Soviet Russia and leading an orchestra that was considerably more polished than the USSR Symphony provided Rozhdestvensky with a rare and welcome opportunity to relax. Indeed, had the conductor’s name been inadvertently left off the jewel box, I would never have guessed who was on the podium based on the gentle, unhurried performances heard here.
in particular could use some of the urgency and fire that permeated Rozhdestvensky’s old Prokofiev recordings. His tempos are relentlessly moderate, and he does little to bring out the individual character of each number. Thus the “Chinese Dance” is much too stodgy, the “Trepak” is joyless, and the “Waltz of the Flowers” is terribly clunky—to cite just three of the most egregious examples. Despite the lack of inspiration from their conductor, the BBC Symphony plays divinely throughout. But Charles Mackerras has an even better orchestra (the London Symphony), and he leads a far more alert and exciting performance of the complete ballet on Telarc. If the familiar Suite is all you need, you can’t go wrong with Bernstein’s exuberant Sony recording.
was new to me. The overture is a delightful, cinematic romp that finds the composer at his most accessible and immediately comprehensible. I’m surprised that it doesn’t turn up on concert programs from time to time. It would make an excellent curtain raiser. However, the heavy-handed irony and satire of the remaining three movements was completely lost on me. It sounds like inferior circus band music gone horribly wrong. For the record, the audience ate it all up, laughing at all of the wrong notes and applauding thunderously at the end. I guess you just had to be there.
The Stravinsky, on the other hand, is stunning. I’ve always regarded the
Scenes de ballet
as a bland, generic essay that the composer dashed off quickly in order to take some easy money from a Broadway producer (the hapless Billy Rose). Perhaps that’s because my only previous experience is with the recording by the composer and the CBC Symphony on Sony. Rozhdestvensky spotlights the score’s vivid primary colors in the manner of Stokowski. His performance is also more incisive than Stravinsky’s ill-prepared and often poorly tuned rendition. Rozhdestvensky even manages to find some references to Tchaikovsky’s music that the composer completely overlooked.
The sound from both concerts is excellent: clear, warm, and richly detailed. Only rarely before hearing the applause at the end of each performance does one become aware of the presence of an audience in the hall.
FANFARE: Tom Godell
Works on This Recording
Scènes de ballet by Igor Stravinsky
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1944; USA
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