Prokofiev: Winter Bonfire
Part vanity project, part misguided attempt to augment the all too small repertoire of children’s music with narrator, actor-musicologist Vincent Figuri’s first issue in the Once Upon a Time series for his own recording label is a non-starter, at least for English audiences. Instead of getting a British or American reader to narrate this simple 1949 tale of some Young Pioneers’ winter trip to the woods and back for the alternative to the French version which launches the disc, he does it himself, with often unintentionally funny results (‘eyebrose’, ‘loffing’, a bit of embarrassing singalong). But surely the main point is that Prokofiev never intended the music to be spoken over, as it occasionally is in Peter and the Wolf; the composer was meticulous about timing the word to the music in the form known as melodrama, and left no such indications here.
Figuri overdoes the music’s status in his note, too, calling it a ‘masterpiece’ and referring to the skaters’ waltz as ‘one of Prokofiev’s most intense inspirations’. It’s not, of course: it’s a slight but tuneful variation on one of the composer’s most popular genres, like a march and several landscape pieces. The orchestral contribution turns out to date from a 1995 Chant du Monde recording. It’s decently conducted by Andrei Tchistiakov, but the sound is too recessed to compete with the New London Orchestra’s charming version conducted by Ronald Corp on Hyperion. And while here you get the 20-minute score three times over (including orchestra alone), there you have all of Prokofiev’s orchestrated works for children. No competition, then.