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Saturday, May 16, 2009


The Queen of Spades/On Guard for Peace
Music by Sergey Prokofiev
Chandos CHAN 10519 (UK)
15 Tracks 66:05 mins

This disc presents the premiere recording of a suite, adapted by Michael Berkeley, from the unrealised film score for The Queen of Spades, written in 1936, one of three projects Prokofiev undertook that year for Alexander Pushkin, all of which were "nipped in the bud" by Stalin.
It wasn't until 1966 that Gennady Rozhdestvensky assembled the suite Pushkiniana, from music from all three projects, which was subsequently revised by Mikhail Jurowski. However, Michael Berkeley came to the rescue of the film score when, during 2007-8 he was approached by the Royal Ballet and choreographer Kim Brandstrup to turn it into a "choreographic love triangle, loosely based on one of Dostoyevsky's drafts for his novel The Idiot." Some of the ideas presented in the piece will however be familiar, as the composer reused them in subsequent concert hall works.
The first of the five movements that make up this 32-minute piece, "Introduction and Allegro," opens quite ominously with tolling bells, but the pace quickly picks up, pausing for a lengthy, genteel, and quite lovely passage for woodwinds and strings, before rushing to its conclusion.
"Adagio" is an airy piece for woodwinds and strings, yet, at the same time, verging on the tragic.
"Scherzo" is a fairly brief, but delightful ballroom piece; and is followed by the lengthy and varied "Finale," which is boisterous at first, but becomes increasingly menacing and dramatic. The final "Epilogue" is Berkeley's arrangement of a recently-discovered undated piano piece, with no obvious connection to the film, so doesn't really belong here.
Completing the disc is On Guard for Peace, an oratorio in ten movements, with text by Samuil Marshuk.
For these performances, Neeme Jarvi conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with the Orchestra's Chorus and Junior Chorus, Irina Tchistjakova (mezzo-soprano and narrator), and Niall Doherty (boy soprano).
The accompanying multi-languaged booklet features David Nice's notes on each piece, together with profiles of the featured performers, and lyrics for the oratorio.


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