This is ballet music written in the true classical Russian ballet tradition.
Arensky has employed basic North African musical forms in movements like
the Dance of the Egyptian Girls but blended them with familiar Slavonic idioms
in such a way that the 1908 audience must have felt as though it had barely
left St. Petersburg. ln fact the "Pas de deux" Tempo di valse sounds rather
Here is a very brief idea of the story to help readers visualise the mood
of the music and the production of the ballet. Amoun an accomplished hunter
and friend of the High Priest, is betrothed to nice country girl Berenice.
Then Cleopatra arrives and Amoun is smitten by her beauty to such an extent
that he shoots an arrow into a tree above her head with a message attached
declaring his love. Cleopatra is not amused. Even though she is struck by
Amoun's handsome good looks and grants him the kiss he desires, she orders
that he must die by poison, at the first light of day. Mark Anthony appears
and goes off with Cleopatra after Amoun has drunk the lethal potion. But
the ballet ends happily for the High Priest has given Amoun only a harmless
drug and he is reunited with the for-giving Berenice.
The Music is pleasant enough throughout if not particularly memorable. The
influence of Tchaikovsky is very apparent: so too is that of Rimsky-Korsakov
(Arensky was one of his students). Not surprisingly therefore, Arensky's
instrumentation is sparkling and very colourful. The music often suggests
languid, perfumed nights in lush, sensuous surroundings, and it is frequently
delicate and gossamer-like. The contrasting ceremonial music for the arrival
of Cleopatra and, later, Mark Anthony is suitably imposing and. once or twice,
it sounds oddly Elgarian.
The Moscow Symphony Orchestra clearly revels in this repertoire and it plays
with spirit and enjoyment. Soloists Alexander Avratnenko (violin) and Vladimir
Kolpashnikov (cello) shine in their movements (erroneously credited on the
CD's cue page). Avramenko's ardent, romantic playing in the Poisoning Scene
suggests that Cleopatra's kiss before the lethal brew is handed to Amoun,
must have been lingering and passionate.
An enjoyable bit of escapism.
"This review originally appeared in Fanfare (Nov/Dec 1997)
and is reproduced by kind permission of that publication"