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ARENSKY Egyptian Nights     Moscow SO/ Dmitry Yablonsky    MARCO POLO 8.225028 (50:43)


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 incongruous.

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.


Ian Lace


"This review originally appeared in Fanfare (Nov/Dec 1997) and is reproduced by kind permission of that publication"


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