PROKOFIEV: Tales of an Old Grandmother: No. 2, Andantino (arr. Milstein). 5 Pieces from “Cinderella” (arr. Fikhtengolts). Visions Fugitives (arr. Derevianko). War and Peace: Waltz (arr. Reitikh-Zinger). Egyptian Nights Suite: No. 6, “The Fall of Cleopatra” (arr. Reitikh-Zinger). Tarantella (arr. Reitikh-Zinger). Boris Godunov: Amoroso (arr. Reitikh-Zinger). 4 Pieces for Piano: No. 2, Minuet (arr. Reitikh-Zinger) & No. 3, Gavotte (arr. Heifetz). Music for Children: Evening (arr. Reitikh-Zinger). Love for Three Oranges Suite: March (arr. Heifetz). The Tale of the Stone Flower: Diamond Waltz (arr. Reitikh-Zinger). 10 Pieces for Piano: No. 6, Legend; No. 3, Rigaudon (arr. Reitikh-Zinger) / Yuri Kalnits, vln; Yulia Chaplina, pno / Toccata Classics TOCC0135
Normally I dislike reviewing arrangements of classical music for instruments other than those for which the piece was composed, even if the composer himself made the arrangement, but Kalnits and Chaplina play these pieces with so much energy and affection that I couldn’t resist.
The music covers virtually the whole of Prokofiev’s creative life, from the very early Tarantella written when he was only 10 years old (1901) to the Diamond Waltz from The Tale of the Stone Flower written near the end of his life in 1953. Yes, of course Prokofiev’s late years were sad and dreary ones when he was often censored by the musical bureaucrats who Stalin put in place and thus was forced to write alternate, more “pleasing” and popular endings to works which he hated, but frankly, no one told him to go back to the Soviet Union when he was out, safe, and having a fine career in France. Did he really think he was going to be feted by the Soviets because he was coming home the conquering hero, having proven himself with a hit opera, symphonies and concerti which he had written while in Western Europe? If so, he was clearly deluding himself. He should have had a chat with Rachmaninov who, though he was homesick for the rest of his life, absolutely refused to go back to Mother Russia once he got the hell out—and who talked Nikolai Medtner into doing the same.
Eight of the pieces here get their first recordings: the 1901 Tarantella plus The Fall of Cleopatra, the Boris Godunov “Amoroso,” the “Minuet” from 4 Pieces, “Evening” from Music for Children, the Stone Flower “Diamond Waltz” and the “Legend” and “Rigaudon” from 10 Pieces for Piano. But as one can tell from the listing above, the focus here is on short works, the kind of pieces that violinists love to play as encores (note that Nathan Milstein and Jascha Heifetz are two of the arrangers on certain pieces) rather than meaty works.
This, then, is an album clearly built around playfulness and enjoyment. I was just a bit startled to hear Kalnits playing with a great deal of portamento, giving much of this music a schmaltzy sound akin to that of Fritz Kreisler, but why not when enjoyment is your primary purpose? This is the kind of album that’s perfect for raw fall days when the temperatures barely hit 62 and it’s been raining on and off all night and all day. Prokofiev has the advantage over Rachmaninov in that his music was rather more modern and a bit spikier in harmony, not so much as to alienate the average listener but also not as overtly Romantic as his older colleague. A perfect example is the “Passapied” from Cinderella, a piece that I’m sure got him in Dutch with the Soviet Politbureau.
As I say, a delightful disc to listen to.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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