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S & H Chamber Review

Serge Prokofiev complete chamber music, Blackheath Halls 11/12 October 2003 (PGW)


Complete works for violin and piano

Cinq Melodies (arranged for violin and piano by the composer) op. 35a (1925)
Sonata for violin and piano No 1 in F minor op. 80 (1938-46)
Sonata for two violins
Sonata for violin and piano No 2 op. 94a in D

Alexander Rozhdestvensky, violin
Vasko Vassilev, violin
Mikhail Rudy, piano
Painting by Oleg Pro kofiev

Complete works for cello and piano

Ballade op 15 (1912)
Sonata for solo cello, op. 133 (1953)
Adagio from the ballet 'Cinderella', op. 97a (1944)
Suite from ballet 'Chout', op. 21 (1920). Arranged for cello and piano by Roman Sapozhnikov. UK premiere.

Sonata for cello and piano, op. 119 (1949)

Alexander Ivashkin, cello
Mikhail Rudy, piano

Gabriel Prokofiev String Quartet
Elysian String Quartet

String Quartet No 1 in B minor op 50 (1930)
'Trapeze', music for ballet (1924-25)
Overture on Hebrew Themes op. 32 (1919)
String quartet No 2 in F op 92 (1941)

Mikhail Rudy, piano
Alexander Rozhdestvensky, violin
Natalia Lomeiko, violin
Daniel Raiskin, viola
Alexander Ivashkin, cello
Sergei Gorlenko, double bass
Melinda Maxwell, oboe
Colin Lawson, clarinet

This unique family event provided a rare, concentrated overview of the chamber music of Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953), which is inclined to be overlooked in the company of his orchestral music, ballets and operas. No equivalent event has been given in UK during the Prokofiev 2003 anniversary year.

South East London has a rare concentration of expertise in Russian music based at Goldsmiths College, with its Centre for Russian Music (Professor Alexander Ivashkin), the Serge Prokofiev Archive (curator Noëlle Mann), and the Prokofiev Association which put this prestigious event together. There is also a Schnittke Archive at Goldsmiths, and the programme book included extracts from Alfred Schnittke's essay On Prokoviev from A Schnittke Reader edited by Alexander Ivashkin.

Frances Prokofiev (resident in Blackheath) introduced an exhibition of her late husband, painter & sculptor Oleg Prokofiev, the composer's younger son, and space was found to include the premiere of a new unpublished String Quartet by the composer's grandson, Gabriel Prokofiev.

The first event featured Mikhail Rudy with Gennadi and Victoria's son Alexander Rozhdestvensky, a commanding violinist who played the 'Haddock' Guarneri loaned by the Stradivari Society. His companion in the duo sonata was Vasko Vassilev of the Covent Garden Orchestra and also, so we were told in the voluminous CVs provided, holder of numerous positions including musical director of the Voodoo Girls Orchestra of Anastacia Island!  More than a page was given to Rudy's notable achievements, from which I was delighted to spot that next year he will be releasing Journey for two pianos, rewritten and improvised classical repertoire works with jazz pianist
Misha Alperin, who had entranced us at Lucerne and in London.

The high spot of the first concert was the rarest work, the Sonata for two violins, which bowled over the audience, and had similarly made a brilliant impression played by Elena Denisova and Atle Sponberg at the Wörthersee Classics Festival in
Klagenfurt; it is a very 'physical' piece, greatly enhanced by being seen live.

Alexander Ivashkin and Mikhail Rudy's Sunday morning cello recital was a well balanced programme of a suitable length, 1 3/4 hours, marred only by inadequate and confusing notes and a mistaken, unannounced order change which left us all guessing what we were listening to after the first item. That was an early Ballade in which the piano was too dominant (I found myself thinking that a duo recital with piano really needs four people, the two performers, a turner-over, and a well placed listener in the audience who can give the pianist a discreet signal to modify his level). I am not one of those who always wants the 'soloist' to dominate his 'accompanist' (q.v Gerald Moore's hilarious account in Am I too Loud of working with a cellist for whom, despite best efforts, he always was so)!

Rudy's tone quality is pellucid and beautiful, however fortissimo, and things improved during the recital, but the unaccompanied piece, the so-called Sonata completed from sketches of the dying composer, was a high spot, just as had been the sonata for two violins the previous evening, when the same problem was evident. The Suite from Chout was a winner, lots of devilry with glissandi and exaggerated vibrato - when new in 1920 the score provoked outrage, 'grotesquerie pushed beyond permissible limits'; delicious.

The afternoon recital was something of a marathon, nearly three hours with one interval, after which not everyone returned, to their loss. The backbone was the two string quartets, given with enormous conviction and dazzling expertise by a quartet of four Russians who do not play as a regular ensemble. Prokofiev's sting quartets certainly deserve a higher profile than they have won in the string quartet repertoire.

New to almost everyone in the programmes were two ballet arrangements. An augmented ensemble gave the rare Trapese, with additional items quarried from the Prokofiev Archive and given for the first time. There were too many for its placement at the end of an overlong first half, but the score would stand up very acceptably in dance with a small modern dance company; perhaps the nearly Laban Centre and their Transitions Dance Company should consider it?

A last word for the youngest Prokofiev, grandson Gabriel Prokofiev, whose very new String Quartet was premiered by the excellent, locally based, up-coming Elysian String Quartet. Venturing into the hallowed world of the string quartet, the burden of its masterpieces daunting to many contemporary composers, Gabriel Prokofiev came fresh and unprejudiced from working in electro-acoustics, finding a distinctive voice which (to my ears, but not consciously his) built upon some of the original brusqueness and spare textures of Stravinsky's regrettably sole foray with his three, all too brief, pieces. It was arresting music which held attention easily in this august company, despite some awkward corners and loss of energy in the faster movements; Gabriel Prokofiev and the Elysians should continue developing it towards publication and a regular place in their repertoire.

With hindsight, it might have been better to have given that final concert with two intervals or, better, to have made the event a four concert weekend with special Saver tickets to encourage people to take it in as a whole - some were selective for financial reasons. All in all, it was a memorable event, achieved largely through the untiring efforts of Professor Ivashkin who was able to bring to Blackheath players of the highest calibre.

Peter Graham Woolf



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