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Sergei PROKOVIEV (1891-1953)
The Stone Flower, ballet in three acts, Op. 119 (1953) [120.00]
Danila - Nikolai Dorokhov
Katerina - Lyudmilla Semenyaka
Mistress of the Copper Mountain - Nina Semizorova
Sereyan - Yuri Vetrov
The Bolshoi Ballet
The Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Aleksandr Kopilov
Scenario: Mira Mendelson-Prokofieva and Leonid Lavrovsky, after The Malachite Box by Pavel Bazhov.
Revised scenario and Choreography: Yuri Grigorovich
Scenery and Costumes: Simon Virsaladze; Video Direction: Motoko Sakaguchi
rec. 1990, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, Russia.
DVD 9, NTSC 4:3, 2.0 Stereo 48 KHz 16Bit PCM, dts 5.1, Dolby surround 5.1.
Region 0: Worldwide
Menu languages: Deutsch, Français, English, Castellano
Notes in English, Français, Deutsch.
ARTHAUS MUSIC EUROARTS 101 121 [120.00]


Comparison (audio only) Recording:
BBCPO/Gianandrea Noseda CHANDOS CHAN 10058

This work was Prokofiev’s last music. The pen literally fell from his hand onto this page when he suffered his fatal stroke. Fortunately the music was actually complete; he was merely touching up orchestrations to suit the specific acoustics of the hall for the first performance, something that was to be easily completed by an assistant. As the first performance ended up a failure, these revisions were of little importance anyway.

Late Prokofiev is problematic. There are those who say his long disabling illness affected his writing ability. True, he came to rely on assistants to write out full scores from his musical shorthand notes. True, his last music is different in color from earlier Prokofiev: it is more uniformly somber, less quirky, more carefully laid out. But as with Vaughan Williams I think we will some day come to realize that his music simply got better as he got older. He’d finished his experiments and knew exactly how to say what he wanted to say. And, he began exploring new esthetic areas.

I think this work, in contrast to Prokofiev’s earlier ballets, is an attempt at the dance-symphony typified by Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps. Neither of these works was successful as a ballet in their earliest performances and the same was true of Stone Flower. And the symphonies Prokofiev was emulating were not his own previous symphonies, but those of Mahler. In other words, I believe Stone Flower is Prokofiev’s Eighth Symphony and is intended to represent a departure towards a whole new symphonic style.

This is a completely new choreography set to a new performing version consisting of the following numbers from the original score, in order: 1-3, 5, 7-16, 19-23, 25-27, 29-30, 32-40, 23, 18, 1, 41-46. This is substantially the whole ballet, with only numbers 4, 17, 24, 28, and 31 cut, and 1, 23, and 18 repeated. The complete recording times at 148 minutes, so perhaps 28 minutes of music have been cut within numbers and by otherwise speeding up the performance. As in his Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev re-used music here from other sources, notably the Ivan the Terrible music. There are unmistakable influences of Agnes DeMille in the "Russian" folk dances.

The story concerns Danila, the young apprentice’s desire to create the most perfect work of art, a malachite chalice in the form of a "stone flower." He makes the mistake of ignoring his true love, Katerina, while he pursues his artistic project. As a result, the town drunk, Seryevan, goes after the abandoned girl who is rescued by the men at the carnival. The Mistress of the Mountain, Danila’s artistic muse, first murders Seryevan, and then tries to capture the soul of Danila, tempting him with all the beauties of the gemstones, each of which performs a special dance. But he resists her and she punishes him by chaining him to the rocks in her cavern. A fire spirit enchants Katerina and leads her to the cavern where Danila is held captive. The two women battle for his soul; he breaks free, fights off the Mistress of the Mountain and he and Katerina embrace. The Mistress of the Mountain, generous in defeat, returns them to the forest and in a final tableau blesses their love.

Video is standard 1990 broadcast quality, probably transferred directly to NTSC from Russian SECAM. Or, since most of the video crew appeared to be Japanese, perhaps it was an original NTSC production. I got the best sound from the dts tracks. Surround perspective is natural; orchestral detail opens up nicely, with applause coming from the rear and the little bit of stage noise, about what you would hear in a live performance, confined to the center front. When twenty dancers leap in the air at once, you are going hear them come down, however gracefully they do it. An audience is present and they applaud at the end of spectacular set pieces, of which there are a good number. A couple of times the audience reaction sounds like a canned applause track, most other times it sounds natural, which suggests that this video was probably spliced together from several taped full performances with some additional music recorded without an audience. That is to say someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to give us a seamless high quality presentation.

Although Prokofiev’s title included the word "pantomime", traditional classical ballet lovers will be delighted with most of the dancing which is utterly spectacular throughout, each of the four principals delivering a legendary performance. Nikolai Dorokhov performs brilliantly, especially in his obligatory display piece with multiple rapid turns and spectacular leaps. Lyudmilla Semenyaka is heartbreakingly gentle and graceful as the young lover; Nina Semizorova is magisterial and charismatic as the magical Mistress of the Copper Mountain and her duet with Dorokhov offers some of the most dramatic and spectacular dancing I’ve ever seen. Yuri Vetrov as the violent, evil, drunk miner is brilliantly in character throughout. It is a constant wonder how he can stumble and stagger so violently and be so graceful about doing it. When the earth opens up and swallows him alive, it is the most horrifying on-stage death since Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites.

I did not make a detailed comparison of the audio only recording with the soundtrack of the DVD for several reasons. First, both are extremely effective and without obvious flaw in my memory. Second, an audio-only version should be different from a video soundtrack in that real dancers don’t have to dance to it, so tempi and transitions can be performed entirely musico-logically without reference to such considerations as to whether there’s actually time to get from A to B. As a result, comparison might be unfair, since the sound track to the danced version is not supposed to be listened to by itself, nor is the audio-only recording supposed to be danced to. My feeling is that with this work you want to own both versions, for the symphonic qualities of the score would be less obvious in a theater version than in the complete concert version.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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