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Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Eugene Onegin - incidental music (1936) [76:16]
Pique Dame - film music (1936, 2000) [33:56]
Chulpan Chamatova (speaker); Jakob Küf (speaker)
Boris Statsenko (bar)
Soloists from RIAS Kammerchors
RIAS Kammerchor/Jörn-Hinnerk Andresen
Kevin McCutcheon (harpsichord and piano)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Michail Jurowski
rec. Berlin-Dahlem, Jesus-Christus-Kirche March, Sept 2003, Jan, Feb 2004. DDD
CAPRICCIO 67 149 [76:16 + 33:56]

What an invaluable addition to the Prokofiev catalogue. The Onegin music is tellingly performed and recorded catching the quintessential heart-ache distilled in the alembic of Tatiana, Lensky and Onegin.

Before we get to Onegin there is a bonus CD to be examined. Once again Pushkin provides the inspiration. It's a substantial bonus too: a suite, running just over 33 minutes, of music written by Prokofiev for the unfinished 1936 Michail Romm film Pique Dame. A recording premiere.

The music? First there's a chafing and ruthlessly sinister overture followed by a lilting character sketch of Lisa which is very much in the sweet tracks we know from the Juliet music. Der Morgen further develops the remorseless atmosphere with miniature fanfares and the sound of marching tracking left to right. In Hermann sieht Lisa the tense oppression of the overture is regained and driven home with increasing machismo. Prokofiev is in his element with The Ball and its shark-rough fanfares and conspiratorial pizzicato. The usual psychological 'edge' appears at 1:21. Lisa in her room includes the taut patter of the overture matched with more lilting music. The earnest insistence continues into the music for Hermann in the games room. The music of Hermann geht zum dritten mal is extremely inventive, febrile, dissonant and claustrophobically dreamlike. This soon gives way to gripping oompah-accentuated ostinato writing. This is music that would certainly have appealed to Bernard Herrmann and if we recognise fragments of this writing in Herrmann’s music for the film Citizen Kane we must not be surprised. This is very much a collection of fragments but with Prokofiev even the most fleeting scrap instantly and often memorably establishes time, place and mood. So it is here.

The Pique Dame music is a perfect complement to Prokofiev's music for Onegin. Both were drawn from the writings of Pushkin, the centenary of whose death was being marked by the Soviet state in 1937. Onegin is a verse drama. To bring it to the stage the producer Krzyzanovsky rethought it as a series of images and scenes - very much a drama. The production suffered many political vicissitudes and finally was scrapped.

The twelve tracks are encrusted with the most wonderfully touching music. Dmitri at Larin's grave links with Tchaikovsky’s Onegin opera through the plaintive oboe and bassoon writing. Lenski and Onegin includes an effete Italianate bel canto aria. Then enters Chulpan Chamatova with her smokily nubile yet full and buttery voice - very much acting rather than pallidly read. It is utterly irresistible. It is a pity that the transliterated text could not have been given with the translations. The music counterpoints the speech with every sigh and rise and fall of the voice - a superb balance is achieved with the orchestra. Kevin McCutcheon’s manic hysterical harpsichord sounds like a Nancarrow nightmare; somehow the equivalent of Poe's ‘Raven’. The harpsichord also contributes to the grand yet light waltz and touches in anxiety as well as a certain breathlessness and awe. In The Duel (tr. 7) there is a trembling evocation of balalaikas, the warm inevitability of tragedy (00.59) caught in the currents of a swift flowing river. Jakob Küf is the dark-toned speaker. In Tatiana before the bust of Napoleon the saxophone offers lissom consolation while the strings sing in glistening silver. Mr McCutcheon returns, solo this time, at the piano for the Three Intermezzi (tr. 9) playing the overture, waltz and minuett found in Pavel Lamm's version of the score. How wonderfully Prokofiev conveys the dulled and cauterised ardour a decade later when Onegin approaches the now married Tatiana in the great house in St Petersburg. In Onegin’s letter to Tatiana Onegin declares his love too late with the tragedy magnified by Tatiana’s admission that she loves Onegin but will not leave the man she has married. Prokofiev gives his own voicings to the remorseless maw of fate (5'03) and the return of the gracious lissom theme, now somehow more mature, recognises duties of fidelity. The world has turned and Onegin now tastes the despair he had visited on the Tatiana he had heartlessly rejected all those years ago. The music says it all. The mirror of time begins to mist and darken, catching only shimmering, imperfectly filtered and dulled fragments. Once again the saxophone is used inventively (10.08). This score is a masterpiece with every bit as much power as the Tchaikovsky opera - more in fact. The Students Song is not the best way to end the piece but there you are.

This is a lovely performance and I guarantee you will be whistling the themes long after you have forgotten where they came from.

It's the first time on CD for the Onegin music with the original Russian narration. The music which is astonishing top-drawer Prokofiev. The score has of course been available in full from Chandos (CHAN 9318) with the New Company Singers and Sinfonia 21 conducted by Edward Downes (whose version of the score is used here). However the narration in that case was in English. In 1976 Melodiya issued a two LP set (C10 11911)presenting the music with acted speech in the same way as this Capriccio edition. The conductor was Kamul Abdullayev with singers and actors including A. Konsovsky, Yevgeny Kibkalo and N. Milanovich. The orchestra was the All Union TV and Radio Symphony with the Choir of Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow State Musical Theatre. That recording for all its analogue origins would still be well worth reissuing - a project for Regis? I have hankered for a Russian-narrated version since that came out and here it is.

Where do Capriccio and Jurowski go from here? I hope that they have not forgotten Prokofiev's music for the 1940s films Lermontov and the patriotic flag-waver Partisans of the Ukrainian Steppes.

If you have any time at all for Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ... and who doesn’t ... you must get this CD. It is very much cut from the same inspirational cloth. Disappointment is not an issue.
Rob Barnett

Complete Tracklist

Eugene Onegin Op. 71 (1936)

Incidental music to Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse, adapted for the stage by Sigismund Krzyzanowsky - sung and narrated in Russian for speakers, chorus and orchestra arranged by Edward Downes
1. Lenski Am Grab Von Dmitri Larin [04:20]
2. Lenski Und Onegin [05:55]
3. Und So Wurde Sie Tatiana Genannt... [10:39]
4. Onegin Erhält Tatianas Brief - Onegin Und Lenski [05:06]
5. Der Ball Auf Larina [12:01]
6. Tatjanas Traum [04:47]
7. Das Duell [02:26]
8. Tatjana Bei Onegin Und Vor Napoleons Büste [05:27]
9. Trois Intermezzi Pour Piano [07:31]
10. Treffen Tatjanas Mit Onegin In Petersburg [06:30]
11. Brief Onegins An Tatjana Und Letztes Treffen [10:30]
12. Schlusschor Der Studenten [01:05]
Pique Dame - Film Music Op. 70 (1936, 2003)

1. Ouvertüre: Umherschweifen - Hermann Vor Dem Haus Der Gräfin [04:54]
2. Lisa: Hermann Zu Hause [03:12]
3. Der Morgen [01:18]
4. Hermann Sieht Lisa: Hermann Überreicht Lisa Einen Brief - Li [08:16]
5. Der Ball [02:39]
6. Lisa In Ihrem Zimmer: Hermann In Seinem Zimmer Vor Den Karte [07:07]
7. Hermann Geht Ein Zweites Mal In Den Spielsalon: Zweiter Gewi [02:56]
8. Hermann Geht Ein Drittes Mal In Den Spielsalon: Hermann Hat [02:58]
9. Letztes Wiedersehen [00:37]


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