PROKOFIEV Summer Night. Seven, They Are Seven.1 The Meeting of the Volga and the Don. 30 Years. American Overture. The Year 1941 • Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond; 1Leonid Repin (ten); 1St. Petersburg Cons Ch; St. Petersburg PO • EXTON 323 (73:17)
I have complained about Vladimir Ashkenazy in past reviews because of his seemingly randomRead more selection of numerous Exton recording projects (mostly with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra) featuring music that he appears to be temperamentally poorly suited to perform, leading to mediocre results. This 2002 recording of music with the far superior St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra has considerably more promise. First of all, it is a useful collection of rarely performed or recorded works by Prokofiev that faces minimal competition. The St. Petersburg Philharmonic is in another league compared to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Seven, They Are Seven dates from 1917 when Prokofiev was in his bad-boy stage. It is filled with piercing dissonances and raw vocalism, but still looks forward to Ivan the Terrible at times. Summer Night is an orchestral suite compiled in 1950 from Prokofiev’s 1940 opera The Duenna (aka Betrothal in a Monastery). It is a charming and fairly melodic work that inhabits the general stylistic world of Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. Summer Night is close to top-drawer Prokofiev, and is the longest and most accessible music on this CD.
The Meeting of the Volga and the Don and Thirty Years are both described as festive poems (whatever that means), but they are not particularly festive or optimistic. In fact, their generally gloomy tone has perhaps contributed to their lack of popularity. Thirty Years contains an aggressive rocking string motif and some shrieking trumpets and woodwinds suggestive of Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony on Valium. I must admit that I had never heard of the brief American Overture, perhaps because it amounts to a totally uncharacteristic piece of Prokofiev trivia that you will be unlikely to ever play a second time. The Year 1941 is a symphonic suite with three descriptive movements (“In the Struggle,” “In the Night,” and “For the Brotherhood of Man”). “In the Night” is a typical Prokofiev nocturne, but the concluding portion sounds pretty sappy (no surprise, given the title). I have no idea why the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1948 would criticize it for its “anti-democratic, formalist tendency.”
The dry and chilly sound is appropriate for much of the music. The orchestra is miked closely, yielding an up-front aural perspective with limited depth of field but plenty of inner detail. The engineer and Ashkenazy capture the raw energy in much of the music, and the edgy playing of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic is ideal for these works. This is not another one of Ashkenazy’s routine performances. Recommended for those of you who are interested in a well-chosen collection of mostly minor Prokofiev.