WORKS: Egyptian Nights; Hail to Stalin; Autumnal; Hamlet (incidental music); Flourish, Mighty Land
PERFORMER: Tatiana Sharova (soprano), Andrei Baturkin (baritone); Russian State Symphonic Cappella & SO/Valeri Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10056
The two sequences of theatre music on this valuable compendium speak volumes about the kind of high-level artistic collaborations Prokofiev expected on his return to the Soviet Union. Hamlet is a worthy, if necessarily lower-key successor to Romeo and Juliet; Egyptian Nights, the suite which Prokofiev put together from his music to Alexander Tairov’s Cleopatra extravaganza – not by any means ‘poorly received’ to start with, as the booklet note implies – is all sultry atmosphere and trenchant character-sketches in search of a core (if only Chandos had gone for Edward Downes’s suggestion to stud the complete score with slices of Shaw, Shakespeare and Pushkin).
Polyansky’s untypically sprightly accounts of both scores, fighting against the usual Russian echo-chamber recording, culminate in marches which hint at the tragic consequences of military might – a neat link to the worlds of the two cantatas. As we know from previous CD incarnations, Hail to Stalin can take a broader approach to its enigmatically wistful reigning theme, though the choruses are helpfully brisk; Prokofiev’s early Autumnal then sneaks in as an anachronistic testament to the real state of affairs. Flourish, Mighty Land was a revelation to me – full of insolent, I-am-Prokofiev-still gestures and telling discords amazing in the aftermath of Zhdanov’s 1947 denunciations. These performances, whose ‘original version’ status refers simply to the reinstatement of Stalin as the hero of the texts following the Sixties whitewashings, will certainly do for the time being. David Nice