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Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Cinq Mélodies Op. 35 (1920) (Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5 - orch. Shchedrin (2007). No. 2 Prokofiev) [15.20]
Classical Symphony Op. 25 (1926) [14.32]
Concertino for cello and orchestra Op. 132 (1953) (unfinished, completed by Rostropovich, orch. Vladimir Blok) [19.43]
Rodion SHCHEDRIN (b. 1932)

Parabola Concertante for cello with strings and timpani (2001) [16.27]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Southbank Sinfonia/Simon Over
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 1-2 July 2007
NIMBUS NI 5816 [66.05]

Experience Classicsonline

This disc offers us a chance to hear some unfamiliar and reconstructed Prokofiev alongside a breezy and beautifully idiomatic Classical Symphony. The connection with Rodion Shchedrin is strong and the disc also includes a fine work of his own. It’s possible that some of you know of his piano music, for example his 24 Preludes and Fugues - Yes, just like Shostakovich - as he is also a virtuoso pianist.

One of the great strengths of the Nimbus label has been the exploratory nature of their work. This disc certainly falls into that category, opening, as it does with the ‘Cinq Mélodies’. Not surprisingly, these were originally (wordless) songs with piano accompaniment later re-arranged for violin and piano. Prokofiev orchestrated the second one with solo voice and orchestra, but none of the others. Shchedrin has done the rest but for cello and orchestra. Wallfisch tells us that he had played them on the cello with piano. The booklet notes by Paul Conway point out therefore that the pieces actually exist in three different versions. The languid musical language, almost impressionistic, may surprise many of you who think of Prokofiev as harsh and mechanistic. Four of them are quite exquisitely delicate that is numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5.

The Concertino for cello and orchestra also has an unusual history; being the work that Prokofiev was composing before his sudden death on the same day as that of Stalin. It is in three movements. The first two are most uncharacteristic being andantes. The second one is especially lyrical. It’s only in the spiky finale that the composer’s style is more readily discerned. In fact the work has overcome several tribulations. Having been written for Rostropovich it was thought sensible that, the great cellist having discussed the work with the composer, he should complete it, in a version for cello and piano. Kabalevsky orchestrated it for a large ensemble. Vladimir Blok orchestrated it for a chamber group taking out the brass. It is Blok’s version which we have here, and very successful it seems too. It was first performed as recently as 1997 with Steven Isserlis as soloist. It is more in keeping with the material. It is not vintage Prokofiev but is certainly worth getting to know.

We get a chance to hear a sixteen minute work of much interest by Rodion Shchedrin. You might want to consign him to the post-Shostakovich generation and leave it at that. However, as the booklet writer says, Lutosławski is not far away and in the work’s sparsity and drama neither is Panufnik. The work plays without a break. It builds to an extraordinary climax with timpani struck with the palms of the hands, fingernail pizzicato and later, savage salvoes of sound. Although the work apparently does not have a programme an influence at one point was a story called ‘The Enchanted Wanderer’ by Nikolai Lesko (1831-1895). And the word Parabola, in this context, means Parable. In mathematics it is also an important concept which is a shape which comes to a central point before wandering back to its original place. This Concertante does exactly that. The late Mstislav Rostropovich commissioned it and first played it and this serves again to connect us to the Prokofiev Concertino.

There is little to say about the Classical Symphony. I suspect that it’s been put on the disc to offer some kind of familiar yardstick for a purchaser confronted with the unfamiliar. It’s a happy performance and quite brisk, the Larghetto second movement is slower and more expressive than several I have heard and it works well. The balance is first class and the recording, as with the whole disc, is superb.

Raphael Wallfisch is in marvellous form and obviously has the same rapport with this music as had Rostropovitch. He has a consummate technique and a passionate sound well suited to this repertoire. The Southbank Sinfonia were founded in 2002 to enable young professionals to get started in the busy and demanding orchestral world. They accompany with intensity, yet with sensitivity and rhythmic drive. The names of the players are thoughtfully given at the back of the booklet notes as also ia a biography of Shchedrin, Wallfisch and Simon Over, the orchestra’s conductor since its foundation. If this programme was his idea then he should be doubly congratulated.


Gary Higginson

see also review by Dominy Clements


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