HumanitiesWeb.org - Sergei Prokofiev - Composer in Exile [Recommended Recordings]
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26 June, 2013

Sergei Prokofiev
Recommended Recordings



Alexander Nevsky
(St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra; Yuri Temirkanov, conductor)
The cantata that Prokofiev made of his score for Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevsky has long been recognized as an effective piece of programmatic music. In recent years there has been new interest in old films, and Nevsky--actually a very heavy-handed anti-German propaganda piece--is no exception. Unfortunately, the soundtrack was utterly dreadful, recorded with the worst of Soviet technology (which is saying something), and badly performed by a small ensemble. John Goberman, the executive producer of this disc, and orchestrator William D. Brohn reconstructed the score from the cantata and from the original soundtrack itself. The result is both impressive and instructive, although unlikely to replace the cantata in the hearts of most listeners. This disc is an enhanced CD, with CD-ROM aspects that are among the best produced in the classical music field to date. Chief among the enhancements is a clip of scenes from the movie that makes it look much better than it actually is. This disc is a winner in every respect. (review by Sarah Bryan Miller)

Piano Sonatas nos 2, 7 & 8
(Mikhail Pletnev)
There are two sides to Pletnev's character: the wayward virtuoso pianist, and the stiff, metronomic conductor. As a pianist Pletnev is fascinating; as a conductor, boring (at least usually). The reason for this dichotomy is simple: he hasn't a clue how to make an orchestra do what his fingers accomplish so effortlessly at the keyboard. Take the music of Prokofiev: he has recorded the ballet Cinderella, a performance of no particular distinction. But these sonatas are another matter entirely. Brilliant, rhapsodic, exciting, and powerful, Pletnev turns in magnificent performances, ones that stand comparison (in the 7th and 8th sonatas) with Richter, Pollini--you name it. It doesn't get any better. And as great Prokofiev sonata discs aren't exactly thick and furious in the current catalogue, this disc is a mandatory acquisition. (review by David Hurwitz)

Romeo and Juliet
(Cleveland Orchestra; Lorin Maazel, conductor)
By the time Prokoviev came to write this great ballet in 1935, Russia was the only country that still had a tradition of "classical" ballet--that is, full-length works of several hours with a single coherent story line. Prokofiev's model was Tchaikovsky, and like his predecessor, he encountered severe problems getting the work produced. The dancers thought the music too complicated and unsuitable for dancing, and so the piece was first performed in Czechoslovakia, only later making a triumphant stage debut at the Bolshoi. It has never been out of the repertoire since. This recording set a new standard of orchestral excellence in performance of this music, and is still the version of choice for the complete ballet. (review by David Hurwitz)

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