The Gambler Suite, Op. 49; Autumnal, Op. 8; The Mistress of the Copper Mountain, Op. 129; Wedding Suite, Op. 126; Gypsy Fantasy, Op. 127
Lahti Symhony Orchestra/Dima Slobodeniouk
BIS BIS-2301 62:42 mins
Neither of the relatively unfamiliar offcuts from stage works represented here quite works out of context. Prokofiev’s operatic adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler, about shady goings on between Russians and others in the German town of Roulettenburg, offers a string of first-rate musical characterisations. But just being given the names of the four main personages here doesn’t help us much; nor does the note fill us in (or observe that the bolder melodies come from a substantial remodelling of the 1915 original in the 1920s). It’s typical Prokofiev cut-and-paste, but there’s great lyric warmth in the way Dima Slobodeniouk and his Lahti players handle the opening theme and the pathos of Babulenka, the capricious old lady who loses everything at the gambling table. Prokofiev’s trumpet writing really stands out here, and the bluesy, vibrato-ed solo in the portrait of the perverse heroine Polina is outstanding. A little more thrust wouldn’t have gone amiss, but textures remain clear and phrases always shapely.
The early tone-poem Autumn one can take or leave; the near contemporary Dreams is better, I think, but the introduction to The Stone Flower – trumpets again – depicting a kind of Urals equivalent of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen makes you sit up and listen. It’s all downhill from there on, inspiration-wise; Prokofiev in his last years was frail and this is ballet to order, but again this team makes the melodies as interesting as it can. Demonstration-quality sound is a good companion throughout.