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Prokofiev in concert and on DVD

Fauré Pelléas et Mélisande – Suite, Op.80
Chopin Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21
Prokofiev Symphony No.5 in B flat, Op.100

Emanuel Ax (piano) Philharmonia Orchestra/Tugan Sokhiev
London – Royal Festival Hall 17 May 2008

During the first half of this programme (was that planned as Saturday night 'easy listening' ?) we began to wonder why we were there. Afterwards we discovered from ClassicalSource's comprehensive reviews that we had inadvertently arrived too late for the free 6 o'clock pre-concert, which had been the particular attraction of the evening...

The Fauré Suite (orchestrated by Koechlin & later re-orchestrated by the composer) was bland and not always even obviousy recognisable as Fauré's. The Chopin concerto (his first to be completed) was given at the 20 yr old composer's first major concert, and perhaps should be reserved to up-coming pianists of a similar age? The orchestration is dull, often practically redundant, and though it was efficiently given by Emanuel Ax (whose playing pleased me far more than at Lucerne and at Wigmore Hall in 2005) it was a low point in a notable weekend during which every note that Chopin wrote was broadcast wall-to-wall on Radio 3... Tugan Sokhiev had no opportunity to make his mark, and wondered how much (little) rehearsal time had been allowed.

The grandiose Prokofiev No 5 swept the cobwebs away, and the huge orchestra was stunning as heard from front stalls - with, eight brass, eight double basses and eight percussion (including piano). A terrific performance (see Colin Anderson's detailed appraisal); to encounter this grandiose Soviet-approved work in full throttle was salutary, being more used to hearing it on radio and recordings. Its final over-the-top peroration brought to mind Beethoven's ending for his 5th. Not quite the thing to pass by the attentions of the decibel police, who are currently out in force...

Peter Grahame Woolf

Prokofiev's ballets

In the same weekend we were captivated by a wonderful new DVD film of Prokofiev's Cinderella, performed to Askenazy's fine recorded account of the score with the Cleveland Orchestra [Decca 410162-2].

Strange to be reminded that Prokofiev perceived his ballets as of 'secondary importance'; to our taste Prokofiev is at his best in ballet scores, as is Tchaikovsky. We first got to know it at Covent Garden in the landmark production (Frederick Ashton/Margot Fonteyn) - too long ago to remember... Although it is taken from a TV transmission, seems to be shortened (78 mins) and is in black&white (though the commentary indicates that it was available also in colour) it is a charming memento of Fonteyn as I remember her on stage, very moving to see again, expressive in the gneral movements apart from the set piece dances with her regular partner Michael Soames. Rather special having the two great Knighted choreographers Ashton & MacMillan as the Ugly Sisters...

In 2001 we found Prokofiev's Cinderella by the Lyon National Opera Ballet and Orchestra absolutely ravishing. That version is set in a dolls' house and seen by Maguy Marin as through the eyes of a child, evoking universally familiar memories of childhood by presenting the characters as masked living dolls with real human feelings, just as children identify with their toys. Cinderella goes to the ball in a toy car, the Prince pursues his search on a rocking horse, and the Fairy Godmother is a robot.

Françoise Joullié's movements as Cendrillon are movingly expressive and the masks are a welcome change from the fixed, expressionless faces so usual in ballet.

The piquant score is conducted affectionately by Yakov Kreisberg and vividly recorded, with some delightful additional 'music' by Jean Schwarz, compiled from live recordings of pre-speech small children.

In our review November 2001 we gave it as a hot Christmas tip for the whole family, and we still stand by that opinion [Arthaus 100 234].


Cinderella A Choreographic Film by JEAN - CHRIST0PHE MAILLOT Music by SERGE PROK0FIEV

Deutsche Grammophon DGG 00400 073 4410

Jean-Christophe Maillot's latest version is quite other, and definitely not for children. It is sophisticated, fast moving story-telling in dance, needing to be seen twice or more to grasp its brilliance and subtlety.

The DVD production for Deutsch Grammophon is exemplary - and uncommonly so. The track listing numbers refer to Prokofiev's original score.

A full synopsis is complemented by Dominique Passet Baudelo's introductory essay, which is really helpful in elucidating the interpretation, with its dream sequences and "possible looks and visions" leaving the viewer to "open his own path".

The extras include The Making of Cinderella with substantial rehearsal excerpts to which it is a privilege to find ourselves invited. One marvels at the non-stop creativity of the choroegrapher in action and at how his dancers can translate his free flowing ideas into movement. There is little explanation directed to watchers of the film, but we are in on working discussions with the members of Maillot's team.

The other filmed extra is a shorter Portrait of Bernice Coppieters, as The Fairy a star of the show. It does not sit quite easily with the style of The Making though it is well worth watching. It amounts to hagiography in its universal praise (surely deserved) of this fine dancer, who is at the top of the modern dance/ballet profession, but it directs your response in the common way of publicists, which she surely does not need. But don't let that put you off at all.

These two dance versions of a tale which Musical Pointers has more often seen and reviewed in Rossini's opera are far more engrossing and memorable than any of those; but for Cinderella operas, don't forget Massenet's Cendrillon, for which there was no DVD when we reviewed it live at Guildhall School.

Recommended urgently for purchase by all enthusiasts of modern dance.



Prokofiev - Cinderella (Paris Opera Ballet)

Cinderella: Agnès Letestu
The Movie Star: José Martinez
The Sisters: Laëtitia Pujol & Stéphanie Romberg
The Mother: Stéphane Phavorin
The Producer: Wilfried Romoli

Choreographer: Rudolf Nureyev
Paris Opera Ballet/Paris Opera Orchestra/Koen Kessels

Rudolf Nureyev’s colourful, “movie-star” version is another for adults only. It retains the bare bones of the Perrault story but that becomes convoluted as set in Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s.

A escapist fantasy has Cinderella taking on Chaplin's persona and various old-time greats including Groucho Marx make their appearances. Through too many vicissitudes to be caught first time round we reach the ‘happy ever after’ ending after circumventing the problem of trying on the lost shoe; Agnès Letestu is taller than most of the other dancers on stage, so she wasn't likely to have the requisite tiny foot for a perfect fit...

It is an over-the-top extravagant show, with Nureyev's inventiveness splendidly recreated, and a fine account of the marvellous Prokofiev score. It doesn't displace Marin's Lyon dolls' house version in our affections, but it is enthusiastically recommended to Prokofiev collectors.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also review from Pittsburgh of the Monte Carlo staged production:
" - - a wonderful mix: modern expression with classics steps. Maillot's choreography is
so closely attuned to the music at every instant that the relationship is symbiotic.
The dance gains power from the music, which in turn is illuminated by the dance - - "

and another from
New York Times:
" - - the complexities of Mr. Maillot's fantasy may best be left to grown-ups to untangle."

Prokofiev photo from Lebrecht Archive