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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891 - 1953)
The Stone Flower, Ballet in four acts and nine scenes, Op 118 (1953) [148.19]
Scenario by Mira Mendelson [Prokofieva] and Leonid Lavrovsky from "The Malachite Box" by Pavel Bazhov.
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
Recorded at the New Broadcasting House, Manchester, UK, 28 January 2003
Notes in English, Deutsch, and Français.
CHANDOS CHAN 10058(2) [72.39 + 75.40]

The Stone Flower was Prokofievís absolute last composed work. Indeed, on that fatal evening in 1953 he had pen in hand setting notes to paper* even as the fatal seizure struck him to the floor. Of all Prokofievís lengthy works it has endured the most neglect, to my knowledge having never been recorded complete before this. Compared unfavourably to Romeo and Juliet, itís been condemned as an interminable crashing bore and swept firmly aside. In a manner similar to Vaughan Williamsí Ninth Symphony it has been presented as evidence that the composer was utterly past it and should have quit composing some time previously. Vaughan Williams has since had the last word, and I think now itís Prokofievís turn.

The plot of the ballet is absurd, and totally unrelated to the music, so we need not trouble with it. At about my third complete listening through, the idea struck me that this work is Prokofievís "Symphony #8" in a startling new form, never used by the composer before ó that of Mahler! Like Mahler symphonies, the work is long, in this case, at over two and a half hours, exceeding Mahlerís longest. Like all Mahler Symphonies, quotations abound from earlier works. Dance movements move deliriously across the stage to be followed by long largos of slowly shifting harmonies and static wails of anguish and despair, then echoes of the dance episodes waft eerily by. In the end, as in Mahler symphonies, the anguish builds to a huge climax and dies away unrelieved. Previous recordings of excerpts have made it impossible to perceive the overall plan of the music.

The annotator betrays a curious prejudice against the efficacy of Soviet divorces and civil marriages by referring to Mira Mendelson as Prokofievís "companion" when in fact and in law Mira Mendelson Prokofieva was his second wife and lies buried by his side in Moscow. But is it possible that Miss Mendelson in coming to be Mrs. Prokofieva did more than advise her husband on etiquette and protocol? Is it possible she made him more aware of a world of culture he had previously only dabbled with (i.e. the Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op 34 from 1919), one he eventually came to identify with very personally? No one doubts the influence of Mahler on Shostakovich? Why not on Prokofiev? Here is the proof.

*Lest I mislead, it should be said that the score was complete, but the Bolshoi had requested revisions to facilitate the staging and it was these he was writing.

Paul Shoemaker

See also review by Rob Barnett

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