Prokofiev: Eugene Onegin

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Eugene Onegin
PERFORMER: Timothy West, Samuel West, Niamh Cusack, Dominic Mafham, Helena McCarthy, Terrence Hardiman (speakers)Sinfonia 21/Edward Downes
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9318/9 (2 discs) DDD
Tchaikovsky’s ‘lyrical scenes after Pushkin’ will have won new admirers for the original verse-novel, and so this fascinating issue, dominated by the spoken word, deserves every success. Prokofiev’s part in an abortive centenary adaptation of the novel was a modest one – finding mood-music to highlight Pushkin’s bittersweet elegy – and he succeeded with a simple yet unconventional brand of lyrical character study, movingly underlined by Edward Downes’s affectionate direction. Sparely but tellingly brought into play, notably in the few passages where text and music combine as melodrama, Prokofiev’s memorable themes return to haunt us as hopes are dashed and the characters remember their past. The fascination is reinforced by the new, more familiar homes which Prokofiev found for his rejected inventions in later works: the Seventh Symphony, Cinderella, Betrothal in a Monastery and the Eighth Piano Sonata.

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Timothy West’s riveting narrator, son Sam’s youthful Onegin and Niamh Cusack’s lovable Tatyana – complemented by restless music as she tells her nurse she’s in love – use the famous Johnston translation to their advantage (not always easy). The intimate narrative works better for home listening than it did in the concert hall, though the trimming of the tale begs some questions (the duel-master Zaretsky appears unexplained; Lensky’s verses on the eve of his death and Olga’s quick forgetting of her poet merit no mention). Even so, the end result touches the heart, a meditative and highly poetic alternative to Tchaikovsky’s operatics. David Nice