Prokofiev: The Gambler

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: The Gambler
PERFORMER: Sergei Alexashkin, Liubov Kazarnovskaya, Vladimir Galuzin, Elena Obraztsova; Kirov Orchestra & Chorus/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 454 559-2
The young Prokofiev’s most uncompromising attempt at following in the footsteps of Mussorgsky and allowing the music to serve the text is no easy task to carry off in the cold medium of CD. Its vocal parts are shorn of all glamour, the orchestral surges of emotional melody are few and in getting quickly to grips with the ‘incomparable prose’ of Dostoyevsky’s feverish novella, the composer admirably short-cuts the mystic maze of relationships in the shabby-genteel environment of Roulettenburg, but still has to devote a whole act to exposition of character.

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You need some patience with this performance. in the early stages, a character tenor like Maslennikov on the grotesquely recorded Bolshoi recording (once available on Olympia) is better than the fitfully heroic Vladimir Galuzin as gambler-in-the-making Alexei insults a German baron and his wife. Galuzin’s brilliant upper register, when properly engaged, does help to shine the spotlight on Alexei the man of the moment in the long-delayed roulette scene, astonishingly modern for 1915 and very precisely delivered here. As the psychological screw begins to turn, the tragicomedy of unrestrained Russians let loose in a German casino is humanely underlined by veteran Obraztsova’s capricious Grandmama and by Gergiev’s vivid balancing of theatrical pace with eerie pathos. A haunting drama of obsession unfolds, to devastating effect; listen carefully, and you could be spellbound. David Nice