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Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Cinq Mélodies Op.35 (1920) (transcr. for cello and orchestra by Rodion Shchedrin (nos. 1,3,4, 5) and Serge Prokofiev (no.2) [15:20]
Concertino Op.132 (orch. Vladimir Blok) [19:43]
Classical Symphony Op.25 (1926) [14:32]
Rodion SHCHEDRIN (b.1932)

Parabola Concertante for cello, strings and timpani (2001) [16:27]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Southbank Sinfonia/Simon Over
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 1-2 July 2007
NIMBUS RECORDS NI 5816 [66:05]

Experience Classicsonline


This is an attractive collection of mostly less familiar works from Prokofiev and Shchedrin. The Cinq Mélodies Op.35 was originally written by Prokofiev as a set of five ‘songs without words’ with piano, and later arranged for violin and piano. The composer orchestrated no.2 with voice, but, in the words of Raphael Wallfisch: "The orchestral version had remained unheard until now because the manuscript was languishing in various archives. I had often played the violin version on the cello and so, on discovering Prokofiev’s manuscript, I invited Rodion Shchedrin to complete the set using the original as a model. Happily now, thanks to the generous support of the commission from Southbank Sinfonia, there is now a NEW work by Prokofiev for cello, violin or voice and orchestra!"

The result is a very pleasant set of pieces, with a few of those sinewy harmonic and melodic progressions and lines for which we love this composer, but very approachable, and at times beautifully atmospheric and almost impressionistic. The light scoring makes for transparent textures, with no need for the solo cello to fight with the orchestra. I particularly like the mysterious sense of exploration in No.3, and the pizzicato humour in the poco scherzando of No.4. These are highly effective pieces of which I have no doubt we will be hearing more in the future.

Rodion Shchedrin is possibly best known in the west for his Carmen Suite of 1967, but the much more recent Parabola Concertante has a far more abstract musical content. Dedicated to, and given the first performance by Mstislav Rostropovich, the work is quite grim and serious in mood, emphasised by the often weighty tread of the solo timpani. The pulse quickens in the middle of the ‘parabola’ form, with rising tension which builds from cello pizzicato to an impassioned dialogue between strings and soloist. There is a remarkable timp solo later on, which goes entirely against one of the orchestration rules I was taught: never to use timpani as a melodic instrument! If you like your Russian music intense and darkly moody then this won’t be a hard pill to swallow, but don’t expect the clouds to lighten and the sunshine to pour into the room while it’s playing.

The second half of the programme presents works which should be more familiar to Prokofiev fans, although the Concertino Op.132 is less widely performed or recorded than the Symphony-Concerto (or Sinfonia-Concertante) Op 125. The ‘premiere’ recording of this work appears on a Chandos disc entitled ‘Unknown Prokofiev’, although there is a version on Naxos from 1997 – neither of which I have to hand for comparison. The Concertino was in fact unfinished at Prokofiev’s death in 1953, but there was enough of the short score for an initial completion by Dmitri Kabalevsky in 1960. Vladimir Blok made his new completion of the Concertino in order to make a more compact version for chamber orchestra, omitting heavy brass, and generally bringing the work more into proportion with its relatively short duration. As its title suggests, the musical content is comparatively ‘light’, with some jaunty melodic invention appearing in the central Andante. There is no escaping the Russian wryness in the humour which does appear, and there is no escaping some of the ponderous material in the first movement. The final Allegretto almost seems to go too far in the opposite direction, with some twee tambourine shakes and triangle taps which serve to emphasise something of a throwaway finale. This is an interesting addition to the repertoire, but by no means Prokofiev’s best work.

The disc ends with the justly famous Classical Symphony Op.25, which here serves the function of a filler to the works for cello. The most interesting aspect of this work’s appearance here is hearing it performed by chamber forces rather than a pared-down symphony orchestra. This works well, though with fewer strings to make the more demanding passages less exposed there are one or two moments where the comfort zone becomes a little edgy. The Southbank Sinfonia produce a decent enough noise, though there are some mild issues of intonation here and there with the winds both in this piece and elsewhere in the programme. Simon Over’s tempi in the symphony are fine, but err more on the side of being measured rather than genuinely swift. This is a serviceable enough recording of Prokofiev’s wonderful little ‘pocket symphony’, though unlikely to knock you off your seat with excitement.

This is a very well recorded and performed programme, with the acoustic of the large hall at Wyastone Leys providing a good setting for the chamber orchestra and soloist(s). The Cinq Mélodies are the star discovery for me from this release. With some of the less well-trodden paths in Prokofiev, and a substantial work from Shchedrin which will be unfamiliar to just about everyone, this is a disc worth exploring by cello aficionados and repertoire explorers alike.

Dominy Clements




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